Growing Asian American electorate could play crucial role in tight NC races

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As both political parties make efforts to win over new and undecided voters, they're targeting the Asian American electorate.

"I've never seen this before in my voting life," said Heidi Kim, the director at the Asian American Center at UNC, referring to numerous mailers specifically geared towards Asian Americans.

Kim said the efforts began in the primaries, and have increased in frequency as Election Day nears.

In 2016, President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by about 173,000 votes in North Carolina. While that was a larger margin of victory than Mitt Romney's win over Barack Obama in 2012, it was less than the number of combined third-party votes. With third-parties expected to play a smaller role in 2020, both parties feel confident about their chances in the state.

Recent polls have also forced both parties to try and expand their bases; Kim said Asian Americans are traditionally more independent than other voting blocs.

RELATED: New registered voters closing the gap between the number of Democrats and Republicans in North Carolina

"I think it really reflects our political climate right now that any large voting bloc could be a swing vote as tight as some of these races are. And again, with Asian Americans being relatively new and relatively unaffiliated, I think that makes them especially attractive," said Kim.

Nationally, Pew Research reports Asian Americans are the fastest-growing voting racial or ethnic group in the country.

"There are obviously long histories and I'm sure a lot of Americans can relate to the fact that you essentially get born into a political party. You often grow up with your parents politics. But if you immigrate or your parents immigrate, you don't have that kind of born affiliation," said Kim.

According to a poll by the advocacy group North Carolina Asian Americans Together (NCAAT) and UC San Diego's U.S. Immigration Policy Center, there are an estimated 209,000 Asian American and Pacific Islander voters in the state.
"In general, we need to spend more time on voter education in any election, so that wasn't as big of a shift for us. Focusing on absentee voting was (a change)," said Chavi Khanna Kaneru, the Executive Director of North Carolina Asian Americans Together.

The group helped about 750 voters register this cycle, despite being forced to alter some of their efforts due to the pandemic.

"We also translated all voter education material into five to eight of the most common (Asian American and Pacific Islander) languages, and created some how-to videos walking people through how to request a vote-by-mail ballot, and how to properly complete it to turn it in," said Koneru.

Koneru believes the presence of Kamala Harris, the first Asian American on a major party ticket, and State Treasurer candidate Ronnie Chatterji, seeking to become the first Asian American elected to statewide office, could increase turnout.

"It's certainly impacted people's desire to come out and vote this year, because they feel they'll be represented more," said Koneru.

Typically, Asian Americans have voted and registered at a lower rate than the national average. The NCAAT and UC San Diego U.S. Immigration Policy Center poll found 64% of Asian Americans reported being more motivated to vote this year compared to previous elections.
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