With just over four months to go before Americans cast their ballots in the 2020 election, the campaigns of both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will court Asian American voters at a virtual town hall on Saturday, June 27.
Biden will make his case directly to the forum, while the Trump campaign will have a surrogate, former governor of Guam Eddie Baza Calvo. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, will also deliver remarks at the forum.
Since 2008, the Presidential Town Hall has marked the largest electoral forum for candidates to address issues specific to the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community, and take questions directly from them.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event will be entirely virtual.
The town hall is organized by APIAVote (Asian and Pacific Islander Vote), a national nonpartisan group that works to advance AAPI interests and mobilize community participation in elections and civic affairs. It is hosted jointly with community organizations from across the country.
Immigration remains a key issue for AAPI voters; they are the only racial or ethnic group in which the majority of all eligible voters are naturalized U.S. citizens. As assaults against Asian Americans are on the rise during the pandemic, civil rights and hate crimes have also risen to the top of many voters’ minds.
Over 22 million Americans self-identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander, and they comprise the fastest-growing segment of the population, as well as the fastest-growing demographic of eligible voters. Over 11 million AAPI voters are expected to cast their ballots in November, roughly 5 percent of the country’s eligible voters.
Both presidential campaigns have mobilized efforts to court AAPI voters for the 2020 election. In October 2019, the Biden campaign launched AAPIs for Biden at an event with Olympic figure skater and campaign advisor Michelle Kwan. In late May, the Trump campaign launched Asian Americans for Trump , which is co-chaired by Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.
The forum Saturday will be a chance for the Trump campaign, which has struggled to win over AAPI voters, to make the case for another four years. In 2016, exit polls showed Trump won just 27 percent of the AAPI vote, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won 65 percent
However, Clinton’s vote share among Asian Americans was down from President Barack Obama’s 72 percent in 2012. Eight percent of AAPI voters in 2016 picked someone other than Clinton or Trump, and today, 46 percent say they do not identify with any political party.
Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy at University of California, Riverside, and founder of AAPI Data, which publishes demographic and policy research on the AAPI community says because most Asian American registered voters are naturalized citizens, they’re less familiar with the U.S. political system, and less ideologically tied to the major political parties.
“The key for AAPI voters in 2020 will not be persuasion, as much as turnout,” says Ramakrishnan. “They have been trending Democrat for a while, and the loyalties of many AAPI voters, including naturalized citizens, are likely getting cemented by now.”
While the community grows in size and political clout — the number of eligible voters more than doubled over the last 20 years — turnout remains low. Asian American turnout in the 2016 general election was 49.3 percent. That was above Hispanic voter turnout, which was 47.6 percent, but well behind white voters at 65.3 percent and Black voters at 59.6 percent.
Ramakrishnan says that’s driven partly by a failure of political parties to conduct specific outreach to Asian Americans, due both to campaigns’ reluctance to spend money on translated materials and in-language voter efforts, but also by the fact that the most competitive states in presidential elections have not had significant AAPI voting populations.
Still, he says, based on 2018 data that showed the Asian American electorate having an impact in some key congressional contests, 2020 will likely be “a historic year for AAPI turnout.”
“In addition to the competitive congressional races, President Trump’s rhetoric and policies energized a lot of AAPIs to vote, and mostly for Democrats,” says Ramakrishnan. “In addition, many young AAPIs have gotten mobilized by the global movement for racial justice. These two factors will likely make turnout among AAPIs much higher in 2020 than in 2016.”