‘We Are Motivated, Yet No One Is Investing in Our Community’: AAPI Women and the 2024 Election

Ms. spoke with APIAVote and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum about AAPI women’s biggest concerns: cost of living increases, lack of access to reproductive healthcare and threats to democracy.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing demographic, but they account for less than 1 percent of all elected leaders. (adamkaz / Getty Images)

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women have become a formidable force in influencing electoral outcomes in recent years. Although historically underrepresented in politics, the AAPI community is the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States—growing 81 percent from 2000 to 2019—and actively shaping the electoral landscape through increased voter turnout and civic engagement. These trends highlight the importance of the AAPI vote in November’s election and beyond, which can significantly sway political races in battleground states and uplift diverse voices and concerns. 

Ms. spoke with Christine Chen, executive director and founder of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, and Sung Yeon Choimorrow, the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, to discuss the issues that matter most to AAPI women—like the rising cost of living, lack of access to reproductive healthcare and threats to democracy.

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Alia Yee Noll: Intersections of Our Lives (a collaboration between NAPAWF, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice and In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda) conducted a survey to find out what women of color are prioritizing in the upcoming election. What were some of the key takeaways for AAPI voters?

Sung Yeon Choimorrow: Over 80 percent of the AAPI women that responded to the survey said they were somewhat or very motivated to vote this fall, and 55 percent of AAPI women respondents said that they feel like things have gotten worse since last year for them.

That was pretty much the sentiment across the board for other women of color as well.

All of our communities have identified increasing cost of living as their main concern. From there, we deviate a little bit in terms of the rankings, but generally our communities are interested in the economy getting better for them, this sense of not being able to afford things and cost of living. And then a close second for AAPI women is affordable healthcare, and that includes reproductive healthcare. 

Noll: Politicians have historically viewed the AAPI community as a monolithic voting bloc. What is the significance of disaggregating your data in terms of ethnicity?

Choimorrow: We’re a very dynamic community with lots of different life experiences and perspectives, but I think this is why elected officials just don’t bother—because they don’t even know where to start. That’s their decision to not engage and miss out on a whole community, and especially these days when elections are coming down to literally thousands of votes, it does make a difference. Campaigns need to invest differently and think differently about how they’re reaching out to people.

Christine Chen: APIAVote specifically created fact sheets for every single state where we outline, what is the population growth? What counties do the voting age population reside in? Where are the top ethnic communities? Because we don’t want campaigns to say it’s too complicated. I’m literally outlining what their field plan should look like by giving them the data, right? So they really should not have an excuse when we’re doing a lot of this work for them.

[Elected officials’] decision to not engage and miss out on a whole community, and especially these days when elections are coming down to literally thousands of votes—it does make a difference.

Sung Yeon Choimorrow

Noll: What are some of the top motivating factors for AAPI voters in the upcoming election?

Choimorrow: After rising costs and healthcare, Korean women’s biggest issue was the threat to democracy, which I find very shocking. Nobody in my circle talks about it. Chinese women and Indian women, their second issue was women’s rights and abortion rights. And then Filipino women were equally concerned about immigration, healthcare and prescription drugs. 

And this was also surprising to me, but Vietnamese American women’s second highest issue was voting issues as well as women’s rights. I’ve never seen Vietnamese women poll that high on women’s rights, but again, we intentionally chose “women’s rights” rather than “reproductive rights” so that it encompasses more than abortion care. 

Chen: In some ways it’s aligned with what we see in terms of the different ethnic communities and what they tend to focus on. Knowing the history of the Chinese community, especially if you’re interviewing those from China, there’s a whole history about whether or not they had to have an abortion back when they had the single child ruling. That history plays into what rights they prioritize here. 

A large segment of the Filipino community are nurses, so I’m not surprised where they lean in a lot more on healthcare, but then they also are one of the largest communities with immigration backlogs, so I’m not surprised that immigration is top of mind for them as well.

For the Vietnamese population, we’re starting to see different trends, but I think that goes to show that there are new Vietnamese voters coming of age that maybe are also second generation. Back in the day, the main issue for Vietnamese voters was about communism. 

Choimorrow: We oversampled in Texas, Florida and Georgia, and frankly, I think that goes to show that our communities, it doesn’t matter where they live, they tend to lean more progressive, right? This is why candidates that are running on progressive platforms need to invest in our communities, because we’re not people you have to convince. You just have to show up and connect with us, and we’re there.

Chen: For the southern states like Georgia, Florida, Texas, those are all states where legislators were introducing the idea of alien land law. Specifically for new Chinese immigrants, we’re seeing a lot of them organize against that. And now they’re also exploring how they can activate their base of folks to actually register and turn out for the elections, so that’s another motivating factor for newer Chinese immigrants in those states.

These abortion bans and the Supreme Court decision because of who Trump appointed, all of those things are becoming much more evident to our voters.

Sung Yeon Choimorrow onstage at the TAAF Heritage Month Summit on May 2, 2024, in New York City. (JP Yim / Getty Images for The Asian American Foundation)

Noll: How did different AAPI ethnic subgroups poll on the importance of reproductive justice?

Choimorrow: Three-quarters of Chinese and Indian women support abortion care and access to reproductive healthcare—that’s a no brainer, we all knew that. Seven in 10 Vietnamese and Korean women support abortion care and access for reproductive healthcare. That’s a pretty significant shift. Clearly the Dobbs decision and whatever’s happening in our world has impacted that.

For the Korean community, there’s still lots of Koreans coming over and Koreans in Korea are much more progressive, like Korea already legalized abortion. They’re much more progressive on this issue. Although I feel like the Korean community is fairly divided. It’s not automatic that Korean American women who grow up in the U.S. tend to be more progressive than their immigrant parents or the generation before them.

Before, people were sort of sidewalk supporters or didn’t really have an opinion about it, but I think Donald Trump really solidified it. These abortion bans and the Supreme Court decision because of who Trump appointed, all of those things are becoming much more evident to our voters. There’s really a shift in culture about talking about abortion. 

Noll: Historically, candidates have failed to engage AAPI voters. Were there any changes in this year’s data?

Choimorrow: Eighty-seven percent of AAPI women say they’re somewhat or very motivated to vote, and 62 percent said they see voting as extremely important.

However, 52 percent also said that voting is an extremely effective way to create the changes they want to see, but they don’t feel like their experiences are prioritized in policy.

A very significant percentage don’t feel like their elected representatives represent them or understand their lives, their issues. So many women are motivated to vote in this election where motivation feels like the biggest hurdle, right? Yet our community disproportionately feels like the people that are seeking votes are not connecting with us. 

Chen: Traditionally, we’ve seen that only about 51 percent of the AAPI electorate are ever touched by the Democrats or the Republicans. Democrats do a little bit better than Republicans when being asked who’s actually reached out to them. Communities who are a little bit more English-proficient, like Indian Americans and the Filipino community, tend to remember being reached out to more than when you poll Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean communities.

We also know historically that if you have limited English proficiency, there’s a lower turnout rate. That’s why we always advocate to create in-language content to reach this growing base of voters.

We also know that 21 percent of the 2020 electorate were first time voters, so you also have new voters that need to be engaged and reached out to.

In our 2022 Asian American voters survey, new voters were asked whether they think the Democratic Party or the Republican Party is doing a better job on a particular issue. It ranged from 23 percent to a high of 35 percent of respondents who said they saw no difference between the parties.

Even though our community is growing and we’re voting, we’re not necessarily seeing the same investments of candidates engaging with us and keeping up with our growth. 

Our community is growing in places like these battleground states, where the races continue to be tighter and tighter. Not only are we growing, but we’re registering and voting.

Christine Chen

Noll: What do you wish elected officials understood about AAPI voters for the upcoming election?

Choimorrow: AAPI voters are low hanging fruit. They know voting is important, they know voting is a way to create change. They are motivated to vote in a year when every news headline is talking about the unmotivated voting base. We understand the importance and we are motivated, yet no one is investing in our community to actually say, “We are interested in hearing what you have to say and representing you,” right? So I think there’s a long way to go for candidates to really demonstrate that they are going to earn our votes.

Chen: Our community is growing in places like these battleground states, where the races continue to be tighter and tighter. Not only are we growing, but we’re registering and voting. But as this poll actually demonstrates, folks don’t feel like things are getting better. And also for our community, we remember the scars of 2020. We remember the pandemic, we remember the rise of anti-Asian violence. There are still a lot of things that need to be fixed, so I think that’s another reason why people are motivated and understand the connection of what is happening, what policies are being decided and how that actually impacts their lives, because they saw that in 2020 and now they remember that as they head into this new election cycle.

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Alia Yee Noll is an editorial intern for Ms. She is a rising junior at USC majoring in journalism and minoring in gender & sexuality studies and documentary. She is passionate about intersectional feminism, reproductive justice and arts & entertainment journalism.