How Yang's Presidential Bid May Affect Asian American Voters

Originally published on February 13, 2020 8:53 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Democrats running for president are now turning their attention to states with much more diversity. Nevada's primary is next, and while candidates will undoubtedly be courting the Latino vote there, it's also worth noting Nevada's the first state in the primary season to have a sizable Asian American population as well. Now, Asian Americans, we should say, have been brought into this election conversation like never before, thanks to this guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREW YANG: Hello, I'm Andrew Yang. And I'm running for president as a Democrat in 2020.

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GREENE: Now, while the entrepreneur dropped out after New Hampshire, activists say what his campaign did for Asian American political engagement will have lasting effects. And let's talk about this with Christine Chen. She's in our Washington studio. She's director of the nonprofit Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote. Thanks for coming in.

CHRISTINE CHEN: Thank you.

GREENE: So what did Andrew Yang's run for president mean for your efforts to get the Asian American community more engaged in politics?

CHEN: Just for the fact that Andrew Yang ran a wonderful presidential campaign and made it this far, he's really changed the image and the narrative of how Asian Americans are seen, that we can actually be seen as those who are politically active and are looking to run for office. In addition, he was able to galvanize a new segment of the Asian American population to actually become donors, as well as to actually get involved in canvassing operations and getting involved.

GREENE: I mean, we should say he actually didn't poll that well with Asian Americans. So do you make a distinction there, I mean, even for people who weren't necessarily going to vote for him, that they felt that he had an impact on their interest?

CHEN: You know, Asian American and Pacific Islander voters are looking for a long-term relationship. So I think they were just starting to get to know Andrew Yang. But we have to give him credit for, once again, galvanizing a new segment of a population of donors, young donors specifically, that we've never seen participate in the past.

GREENE: Can you say at this point if there are certain candidates who seem to be reaching out to and connecting to Asian American voters, or is it too early to really conclude anything?

CHEN: You know what? I'm really excited about the 2020 elections just because never before have I seen presidential candidates early on during the primary season hire Asian American-Pacific Islander outreach directors and to even embed and to, early on in 2019, meet with Asian American community leaders and voters in Nevada as well as in Iowa. So we're already seeing a shift in terms of how they're looking at the voters and how they're actually embedding campaign staff to actually reach out to them.

GREENE: You know, when I cover campaigns, I hate saying, like, there are certain issues that are important to certain groups. So we should say that. But let me just you, I mean, what sorts of issues come up as you speak to the voters who you focus on?

CHEN: So even though Asian American-Pacific Islander is a diverse category, based on our polling the last four years, the same - a lot of the same issues of economy, education and health care continue to resonate. And also, surprisingly, a lot people don't necessarily think about reaching out to Asian American voters to talk about gun control - 7 to 1 voters, Asian American voters, actually are supportive of that.

GREENE: Supportive of stricter gun control.

CHEN: Correct.

GREENE: What role does Nevada play? I mean, is this an important test for Asian American interests in 2020?

CHEN: It is. I mean, even in 2016, when we saw an increase of participation leaving Nevada, it actually set us up for Super Tuesday. And now that California has shifted, we're going to see Super Tuesday - where there's a sizable - like, over 15% of the electorate is Asian American. And you also have states like Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts and Minnesota that have sizable Asian populations.

GREENE: All right. Christine Chen, director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote. Thanks so much for coming in.

CHEN: Great. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF OMA NATA'S "EVERYTHING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.