U.S. Senate Democratic nominees Jon Ossoff (R) and Raphael Warnock (L) wave at supporters during a rally in Marietta, Georgia on November 15, 2020.
Jessica McGowan | Getty Images
James Woo grew up in Georgia and was never contacted by political campaigns. His house rarely received flyers or mailers for candidates. There was only one ethnic market where you could buy cultural foods. He could count all the other Asian American kids in his middle school class in Gwinnett County.
Today, Gwinnett is one of the most racially diverse counties in Georgia, with significant populations of islanders and Latinos in Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific – groups that are growing in metropolitan Atlanta and across the state.
Ahead of the crucial January 5 Senate runoff election that will rule over control of the upper chamber, Democrats hope to harness the growing political power of AAPI and Latino voters across Georgia to win over incumbent GOP Sens. David Perdue and defeat Kelly Loeffler and choose the challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock.
Woo is the communications manager and Korean outreach director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, a nonprofit that has worked for years to mobilize AAPI voters in Georgia. Advancing Justice-Atlanta and other color community advocacy groups have reached out to voters who have been overlooked by many political campaigns in the past.
A historic surge in voters in Asia, America, and Latin America has helped turn the state blue for President-elect Joe Biden, according to Democratic data firm TargetSmart. Compared to 2016, the AAPI voter turnout increased 91% while the Latino voter turnout increased 72%.
“That kind of turnout didn’t really happen overnight,” said Woo. “We have worked with other black, brown, and immigrant communities and organizations to get them to vote.”
AAPI and Latino advocacy leaders say more investment and grassroots organizations are needed for Democrats to win in January and beyond.
Georgia’s changing political landscape
“Partisan politics in Georgia have long been characterized by black-and-white racial segregation, and Asian-Americans and Latinos obviously don’t fit in properly,” said Bernard Fraga, political scientist at Emory University.
“They’re more convincing than whites or African-Americans, so they’re more of a swing constituency,” said Fraga. “But Asian Americans and Latinos are much closer to being a democratic constituency in the state than even white suburban voters.”
According to NBC News polls, 88% of Georgia’s black voters supported Biden, while 69% of white voters in the state supported incumbent Republican President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, 62% of Georgian Latino voters supported Biden and 63% of AAPI voters across the country supported Biden. (AAPI data were not available for Georgia.)
Fraga said the November election results in Georgia represent a “long-term model for Democrats” that does not rely on shrinking white votes, but instead looks at the turnout rates of Latinos and Asians, and that boosts Americans . “
Asian American and Latin American voters made up about 3% and 5%, respectively, of the Georgian electorate in 2019, but are by far the fastest growing segments of US voters, according to the Pew Research Center.
“People are realizing for the first time that AAPI and Latinx voters are that growing group of people who have the ability to swing a state one way or another,” said Gigi Pedraza, executive director of the Latino Community Fund Georgia.
Preparation for January 5th
In the highly competitive Senate runoff competitions that are expected to get to the point, increasing the turnout among AAPI and Latino voters will be key for Democrats hoping to maximize electoral margins.
Georgia electoral rules required runoffs if no candidate exceeded 50% of the vote in both races during the November 3 election.
After the general election, according to a campaign spokesman, the Ossoff campaign hired constituency directors who focused on public relations for the AAPI and Latino. The Warnock campaign hired an AAPI community coordinator to do political outreach in the summer of 2020 and also has a Latinx voting director and New Americans coordinator on the team, the campaign told CNBC.
The Perdue campaign did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment. The Loeffler campaign was not available for comment before this story was published.
Historically, turnout in runoff elections in Asia, America and Latin America has declined compared to black and white voters. By December 24, more than 2 million people had voted in the Senate runoff elections. The pace of black voter turnout in the runoff elections is at or above the pace of voter turnout during the November 3 election, while the pace of whites turnout is slightly slower, according to Fraga’s analysis of the early voting data. The fall in voter turnout by Latino and AAPI in the runoff elections is the lowest of the racial groups and is between 80% and 90% of the general election turnout rate.
The campaigns, the Democratic Party and advocacy groups are all working to increase the turnout of AAPI and Latino voters as January 5th approaches. Before the voter registration deadline, they helped register new voters. Voto Latino, a national voter registration organization, said it had registered 12,000 new voters in Georgia for the runoff election, in addition to the nearly 36,000 voters the organization had registered for the general election.
“We know this turnout will be the biggest problem,” said María Teresa Kumar, President and CEO of Voto Latino. “That’s why we started again to register voters.”
Of the nearly 76,000 new voters registered in Georgia since the November election, Latin American and Asian American voters made up more than their total share of the electorate, the Atlanta Journal’s Constitution reported.
Language barriers and gaps in civic education are challenges that particularly affect Asian American and Latin American voters, many of whom are first-time voters, young people, or naturalized citizens. AAPI and Latino advocacy leaders say the misinformation can spread quickly in their communities, particularly on group messaging platforms like WeChat, WhatsApp, and KakaoTalk, and sometimes through ethnic media. Asian-American and Latin American voters are not monoliths either; They encompass different races, languages and experiences between different communities.
The groups hope to address these challenges through multilingual and multicultural public relations: door-to-door advertising, literature drop-outs, telephone and text banking, advertisements and press in ethnic media – together with the aim of reaching out to hundreds of thousands of voters. During the early voting period and on January 5th, stakeholders also organize election protection work and multilingual voter hotlines.
Beyond the runoff
In recent history, the work of mobilizing voters for these color communities has mainly been done by local units. Asian-American and Latin American organizers cite the work of black organizers to pave the way, particularly leaders like suffrage activist and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who has worked with AAPI and Latino groups for years.
“We’ve really built our churches in ways that haven’t really been there in the past. So when we talk about why Georgia turned blue this year, it is in large part because of the organization that has been organized in color communities in recent years, “said Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, a grassroots progressive group focused on AAPIs in Georgia. “In recent years it has been clear that Georgia would require an investment in color communities to move forward.”
While Georgians can self-identify their race when registering to vote, making it easier for organizations to use electoral rolls to contact key constituencies, reaching out to eligible voters who may not yet have a voting history can be difficult. Stakeholder leaders say it can be more time-consuming and costly to advertise in AAPI and Latino neighborhoods, as the high percentage of immigrants means there is typically a lower proportion of eligible voters compared to black and white neighborhoods .
To continue the momentum in mobilizing Asian American and Latin American voters, organizers need to keep contacting and building relationships, organizers say. The investment is especially important for the Democratic Party to make AAPI and Latino voters a core part of its base.
Jen Rafanan, AAPI media director for the Georgia Democratic Party, said in a statement, “We don’t take anything for granted.” Rafanan and Karla Alvarado, Latinx media director for the Georgia Democrats, said the party was determined to engage and mobilize the AAPI and Latino communities in the state beyond the runoff elections.
“We struggle to get investment every year,” said Pedraza of Latino Community Fund Georgia. “Now everyone’s watching, which is great … but can you commit for the next five years?”
“Because Georgia might not be sexy next year and it will be sexy again for gubernatorial elections in 2022, but by then it will be too late,” Pedraza said. “We have to keep building next year so that we are ready for 2022.”