The Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (Lynda M. González/The Dallas Morning News) AUSTIN — With the belief that it can have a lasting impact on Texas’ political future, the Asian American and Pacific Islander Victory Fund is preparing to pour “several million dollars” […]
AUSTIN — With the belief that it can have a lasting impact on Texas’ political future, the Asian American and Pacific Islander Victory Fund is preparing to pour “several million dollars” into the Democratic Party’s efforts in Texas throughout the next decade, starting now.
Varun Nikore, President of the AAPI Victory Fund, believes Texas Democrats could follow Georgia’s lead in flipping a historically deep red state. And, Nikore said, the fund will invest in the Democratic Party of Texas throughout the decade to help make it happen.
It would take a specific set of conditions for the state to flip, he admitted. But, with the growing number of Asian Americans in Texas, combined with the record-shattering voter turnout in 2020 and the potential for backlash to the current draconian political climate under Republicans has him optimistic about the Lone Star State turning blue in hue.
“When you look at the fastest growing regions in the country, it’s in the sunbelt, with Texas being the big dosa,” or the Indian pancake, as translated by Nikore. The “big enchilada” also works, he said. “Beyond immigration, what I am seeing on the ground here now, which is why I’m here partially, is to talk to activists and organizers who do the on-the-ground work.”
While activists and political scientists alike know it is much more complicated than drawing up demographics as destiny, Nikore likened what he is seeing on the ground in Texas to what Stacey Abrams did in Georgia leading up to the 2020 elections.
“And it’s happening here now,” Nikore said.
AAPI Victory Fund, a progressive super PAC, invested $1 million in mobilizing Asian American and Pacific Islander voters in the state. Now, they have returned with a commitment spanning several election cycles.
Nikore is well aware of the perennial “Is this Texas Democrats’ time?” conversation, especially after state Republicans’ performance in the 2020 elections, though he believes it’s only a “matter of time” before they see a breakthrough. Nikore’s optimism revolves around the continuous growth in the Asian American population in Texas, and America, along with an impressive voter turnout in 2020.
The Asian American population has nearly doubled in America from 2000 (11.9 million) to 2019 (23.2 million), and is projected to reach 60 million by 2060, according to Pew Research. Texas specifically is home to the third-largest Asian American population in the country at 1.6 million.
As reported in October, leading up to the 2020 elections, the second-largest Indian community in the U.S. resides in Texas. And politicians have taken notice.
These numbers come from the AAPI community that put together a 47% spike in voter turnout from 2016 to 2020, according to TargetSmart, a Democratic election data provider.
Kenneth Bryant, associate professor at UT Tyler and co-director of the UT Tyler/Dallas Morning News poll, was quick to say the idea that demographics are destiny has been uprooted in Texas. In short, “it’s complicated,” he said.
“It isn’t as easy as just saying, ‘Oh we’ll increase our number of Asian Americans in Texas, we’ll increase our number of voting eligible Latino voters in Texas and that means all of a sudden Democrats will start winning in landslides and other races across the state,” Bryant said. “It’s just more complicated than that.”
There is still a community of voters that won’t be receptive to some of the more stridently progressive positions that some Democratic candidates will take in 2022 and 2024, Bryant said.
He also pointed out that the Asian American bloc of voters, just a couple of decades ago, skewed toward the Republican Party. They even made some progress among Indian American voters from 2016-2020, according to AAPI Data, likely thanks in part to Trump’s friendly relations with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But polling data from AAPI also found that Indian Americans tend to support Democratic candidates and issues more than Asian Americans as a whole, and that was before Kamala Harris, whose mother was born in India, was sworn in as Vice President.
For AAPI voters, just as it is seen across demographic groups, two key factors are age and education, Bryant said, adding that younger and educated Asian Americans are shifting to the Democratic Party.
One piece of polling data Bryant found interesting from 2018-2020 was that 70% of AAPI voters self-identified as moderate, more than white non-Hispanic, Black and Latino or Hispanic voters.
This is why the battleground races in the suburbs of Houston and Dallas have been so closely watched. These battleground areas are the races Bryant sees AAPI voters playing the biggest role in the short term rather than as a bloc at a statewide level.
Both Nikore and Bryant noted that messaging must be unique to avoid making AAPI voters feel “othered,” something the community has felt throughout the Trump Administration alongside the fear the community has lived with throughout the pandemic as acts of violence against Asian Americans continues.
“Part of the larger conversation about the Asian American bloc of voters is that when a group of minority folks are othered and feel othered, regardless of the internal diversity of that particular community, it creates a coalitional identity,” Bryant said.
Bryant said after national politicians calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan Flu,” a phrase coined and frequently used by Trump, and the targeted hate that followed, created a “linked fate.” This, he says, allows a community that otherwise consists of 20-plus different languages and nations of origin to feel part of one larger community. And that tends to translate to the polls, he said.
“You see a coalition forming of Vietnemese, Indian, Chinese and Japanese Americans who maybe didn’t see themselves linked two decades ago but certainly see it increasingly now” Bryant said. “And there’s no reason to believe that trajectory is going to change much as we move into the 2020s.”
Even so, both Bryant and Nikore acknowledge the unique messaging and on-the-ground efforts it will take to reach a voters’ unique identity within the AAPI community.
“You wouldn’t sell a Toyota without knowing who you’re selling it to,” Nikore said. “You need to know who your voter is. Are they a third-generation Korean American, are they a first-generation Chinese American? Do you know their preferred language?”
Nikore also said that similar to the change in how people consume media, Asian Americans communicate largely through apps. This requires organizers to adapt in the same way content producers have: By engaging consumers, or in this case, voters, where they are and on their terms.
As for keeping voter interest, Nikore said that of the dramatic increase in AAPI voters in 2020, 50% came from people who had never voted for, which is why they plan on continuing to invest in Texas.
“It takes two to three election cycles in order to create that voting habit,” Nikore said. “And that’s why we need this continued investment because you’re not going to create it as a one-off. We need to continue investing and make sure we’re constantly communicating with these new voters and getting them engaged with civic life in America.”