AAPI Voters Are The Fastest-Growing Electorate in the United States. This Campaign Is Talking To Them About Voting.

Supermajority Education Fund

November 2, 2020

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are the fastest-growing electorate in the United States, yet they’ve historically been among the least politically active. For example, a recent poll revealed 1 in 3 young (age 18-34) AAPI unregistered voters did not plan to register to vote.

RUN AAPI (RUN), a voter outreach campaign focused on building political power among AAPI youth (and the organization behind that poll), is fighting to change that. Led by Obama White House alum Brad Jenkins, Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign founder Meena Harris, and Marvel’s first Asian American superhero Chloe Bennet, RUN AAPI recently launched #theNew, a campaign designed to empower and mobilize young Asian American and Pacific Islander voters. 

Supermajority News spoke to RUN AAPI co-founder Chloe Bennet about the campaign’s conception and what we all can do to activate AAPI voters in the days leading up to the 2020 election.

How did RUN AAPI and this new campaign come to be?

I started RUN with Brad Jenkins, former Associate Director for the Office of Public Engagement in the Obama administration, immediately after Trump had been elected. We ended up speaking on a panel together. Brad and I really bonded over the fact that we were both Asian American, and we felt like the AAPI space, both culturally and politically, did not equally represent what we felt like as Asian Americans. We both felt like the community wasn’t coming together the way that it should. 

From that point, we started RUN as more of a social club of sorts that would really bring [the AAPI community] together. I brought the Hollywood component, and Brad represented D.C., so we hosted a lot of different events for local politicians, where we could more intimately engage Asian American peacemakers with political candidates.

This year, we launched the campaign #THENEW, which, of course, came more from the extreme motivation to get our current president out of office. But the narrative was still the same, and that was trying to inspire our community to be more politically active.

The poll that accompanied the campaign rollout showed some pretty staggering results about the lack of political engagement among young AAPI voters. What factors do you feel are most responsible for that?

As much as the poll is kind of jarring, and a lot of the information — like being the fastest growing minority with the lowest voter turnout — is crazy information, I wasn’t really surprised by it. Just having an intimate experience with and within the community, I think it speaks to the fact that representation matters, and representation on screen and political representation really does make a difference in how people see themselves. When you see yourself represented, when you see yourself cared for in the media, then you know to care for yourself. But if you’re not being included, there’s a lot of room for you not to be motivated to vote because you don’t think your vote matters, because you don’t think you matter. So the biggest barrier to voting was really motivation. 

From a political standpoint, we’re just really a forgotten group, and it’s shocking because we’re here. And we are growing. You’d be surprised how many calls we have been on, where we have been speaking with some of the biggest people in branding and marketing in Hollywood, and we are literally told on the phone that our Asian American vote does not matter.

Why do you think AAPI voters are frequently left out of many GOTV efforts? 

I don’t think it’s necessarily a black and white answer. It’s a multi-faceted situation and probably a combination of a couple different things. I think that the AAPI community is incredibly diverse in a lot of ways. There’s generational diversity, there’s ethnic diversity, and different languages, so it’s a very broad voting bloc if you will. Within the AAPI community, there are several different cultures and several different languages, and the cultures are also [differentiated] by what generation you are. I also don’t know how many people in leadership positions there are that would identify as AAPI.

If campaigns aren’t engaging with AAPI, then AAPI obviously aren’t going to engage either. In my opinion, there isn’t really a space for progressive Asians to convene outside of what might be more conservative backgrounds or an apolitical family. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who [have] immigrant parents, and it’s just not in their family culture to vote. Coming to the U.S. was a safe space, and for them, it’s really about working and not necessarily feeling like this is their country. 

What we seek to do with RUN is show these people that it doesn’t matter if you got here yesterday. You should care because it does make a difference to you.

What plans do you have for the last few days prior to the election and after it? 

The past few weeks, we’ve really been focusing on Georgia and Texas. We’ve done town halls and text banking in Georgia, and we will be doing more similar work with grassroots organizations in Texas, such as phone banking. We’re kind of just doing what we can with very little money and resources in the last few days. There’s potential impact that we [could] have up and down the ballot in states like Texas, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, especially on a more local level, so we’re focused on that right now. 

But you know, this is just the beginning for RUN. It does not stop after the election because this is a cultural movement, and that takes time. We really want to build and create space for us as a minority and as a community so that when the next election cycle arrives, we have much more infrastructure on the ground, more funding, and more resources to tap into to bring our community together.

What role can folks outside of the AAPI community play to help this group feel empowered to vote and be politically engaged?

I think there’s a privilege in getting to be politically engaged. I live in LA. I live in a very specific way and I’m around a lot of very specific people. I like to be more patient with people who might not be voting because they’re living a very different life. It would be out of touch for me to just say all people should just automatically care about these things while there are people working three jobs, who don’t necessarily have the energy, time, resources or the people surrounding them to get to engage in these issues in the way that I do. That’s something that I try to keep reminding myself. 

Also, getting psychological here, I think we need to think about motivation. What is motivation? What makes me feel motivated? I feel like that’s where my job as a creative comes into play. It’s the job of creatives and celebrities to tell stories on the screen. Our job is to embody characters and to tell intimate stories of people who might be different from us, or people that people should see. For me, in Hollywood, there’s a limit to the stories that are created and produced. Personally, the long-term goal is to create stories where people start to begin to see themselves and see their version of America on screen. When you start seeing yourself and you feel included in the American narrative the way the AAPI community should have been a long time ago, that’s the kind of bigger piece that we’re missing. But that’s the kind of thing that I think takes time.