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Desis threw themselves into the midterm political process

These midterm elections were historic. While the Republicans have taken back the house with the slimmest of margins, this was not the result they had envisioned.  The Democratic party has beaten the odds.

All the polls showed that Americans were most concerned about the economy and inflation.  But the polls failed to capture the diversity and nuances of many communities.

“Why we saw the election results that we did, I think we have to think about voters of color, women voters and young voters who really showed up this time.” says Kathay Feng – the National Redistricting Director for Common Cause, at a November 11 post-election forum hosted by Ethnic Media Services.

SAFA volunteers boost the political process

While the Monday morning quarterbacking continues to clog the newscycle, the National Director of South Asians for America (SAFA), Neha Dewan said  “what is certain is the fact that, thanks to the efforts of thousands of volunteers like you who joined us to make calls, knocked on doors, and reached hundreds of thousands of South Asian and AAPI voters nationwide over the last few months, the Republican red wave that was predicted was averted, and Democrats lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than any other Democratic President’s first midterm election in at least 40 years.”

As the South Asian community grows in number and political power in this country, so are their political organizations.  Harini Krishnan, the National Organizing Chair for SAFA is very proud of the results.  

South Asians for America (courtesy Harini Krishnan, SAFA)

“This midterm election cycle, SAFA worked in partnership with key AAPI and other coalition groups and State Democratic Parties to set up recurring phonebanks and canvasses to AAPI voters  in 11 key states including Arizona, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia. In many of these states, we were the only AAPI organization to work with the state parties on these phone banks. Additionally, we hosted GOTV rallies and events in many states with large AAPI populations who were once again the deciding margin of victory in Democratic victories – States like Minnesota, where we hosted a GOTV event with Congresswoman Jayapal to mobilize the South Asian community in an unprecedented manner, which contributed to Democrats in Minnesota gaining trifecta control of State Government.”

The elections are not done yet and SAFA is jumping right into organizing for the Georgia Senate Runoff Election on December 6th. Over the next couple of weeks, SAFA will be hosting phonebanks, textbanks and canvass AAPI voters in Georgia

SAFA & AAPI Voter Outreach

Indian American Impact

Indian American Impact works to mobilize the South Asian community to all levels of government and says that this community played a pivotal role in this election especially in Pennsylvania.  

“Leading up to Election Day in Pennsylvania, we were determined to make sure voters turned OUT. That is why we held our South Asian Women Get Out the Vote canvas event featuring Meena Harris, Padma Lakshmi, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, and many more women trailblazers and allies.” 

They See Blue

There is low turnout in the South Asian community, acknowledges Swati Joshi of They See Blue because they just live in their little bubble and candidates don’t know them. 

“There’s a need for the ethnic community that may be different from the normal voters that the candidates go after. And that’s one of the things that we’ve been focusing on in Texas – to introduce the candidates to the different communities and in different ways. And the candidates really need to be aware of that, and be cognizant that it’s not a cookie cutter thing.” 

But Joshi cautions that it’s a two way street and the voters also have to reach out to the candidates and make their voices heard” so that their communities needs are met.

What the electorate cares about

“One of the great revelations of the 2022 midterms was that Democrats can run on cultural issues and win outside of deep-blue districts and states.” says Jennifer Rubin in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post.

Safety and abortion weighed on the minds of Desi moms

For South Asian Voters, Joshi says Roe versus Wade and gun legislation were the two topics that were of concern to women. Joshi spent a lot of time canvassing in Texas, and said that mothers expressed deep concern about sending their kids off to school everyday.  

“We have daughters and we are concerned about their future because we are so used to all the freedoms that we’ve had over the last 50 years, but they won’t have that now with the dissolution of Roe versus Wade.”

The Latinos Voted for affordability and safety

“Voters of color were very concerned about the state of their lives beyond the economy” says Sergio I. García-Rios assistant professor, Associate Director for Research Center for the Study of Race and democracy at the University of Texas at Austin at the anEMS briefing. 

Garcia-Rios stressed that while affordability was an issue, Latino voters were also concerned about gun safety, and mass shootings. They cared about security along the border but not necessarily about immigration or border control. 

Power and Control was big for Black Voters

For Black voters, safety, both physical and financial was a big issue, especially for Black women says Karma Cottman – who serves as the Executive Director of  Ujima Inc.: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community. 

“When we think about violence against women, the root of those issues are power and control. And so when we saw the turnout for the midterms, is that power and control showed up in every way on the ballot, whether it was the power and control of women’s bodies, as it related to the issue of abortion control, over economics and then the issues around gun laws and how that shows up particularly for women and intersections with domestic violence.”

Cottman says that these issues mobilize black women and the black community, but that it also mobilizes across generations. The Gen Z’s came out to vote because these things resonate for them.

The API Vote continued to grow

Christine Chen, the co-Founder and Executive Director of Asian Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote), feels very optimistic about the AAPI community’s participation in this election.  

“Early voting in the AAPI community had increased by 24%. So we are actually very confident that overall turnout would either meet or surpass the 2018 numbers.”

While there was really no gender difference between men and women in previous elections, Chen believes that because abortion was in the forefront, it drove a lot of the the organizing and activity in terms of getting out the vote for the API women. 

Communities are not monoliths

With a  higher percentage of Latinos now being third or fourth generation, the link to the immigration experience is further and further behind. However Garcia-Rios believes “if you remove Florida Latinos, the reality is that the Latino vote continues to be very strongly Democrat.”  

But Garcia-Rios says that Latinos are not a monolith and painting Latinos as one homogeneous group does not do justice to that community.

“If the Republican Party was able to dominate Florida, it was because of the Latino vote. But if there’s a reason why  Democrats still are fighting for Arizona and Nevada is precisely because of the Latino vote. We have to recognize that the power of the Latino voice is already here and is having an immense effect on the outcomes of elections.”

Cottman cautions, “there is also this assumption that when you engage a community that we will either shift from Democrat to Republican or Republican to Democrat, which is not the way that voting works. People tend to vote in their party or not vote at all because they just completely feel disengaged by politics.”

With the AAPI community, it looks like that Democrats are still getting the majority of support, but there is some slippage, says Chen. 

“When you look at the 2022 Asian American voter survey that we conducted early on, we noticed that there’s an increasing number of independent voters among the Asian American electorate – 35% overall.”

Youth stepped up in a big way

Long lines on election day were primarily at university campuses.  “Those long lines were because a lot of those voters were coming out for the first time, they wanted to register to vote, and they wanted to participate. And they were determined they were going to stay in that line,” explains Feng.

Young voters of color educated their community about why the midterm elections are important, says Cottman.

“And I think what we saw is the pandemic, the convergence of post George Floyd, we saw schools starting to take away educational material As we saw, we saw the abortion issue, all of these things converged. And young people saw the impact of this in real time in their daily lives, and that mobilizes voters.”

Young voters were much more motivated than anyone anticipated, says Garcia-Rios. “ I don’t think we have the tools to measure their enthusiasm, because they don’t respond to our calls. They don’t respond to our polls, they don’t watch TV. And so I think they’re being motivated and engaging with politics in new forms and think we need to find new ways to engage with them, because they’re telling us that they want to be engaged.”

Did the parties reach communities of color?

The problem is that Latinos are starting to feel like they are not being listened to, warns Garcia-Rios and that their needs are not being really addressed. “In our surveys, one in four says that neither party, Republicans nor Democrats really care about Latinos. We’ve been asking this question for many years, and we see growing numbers of Latinos feeling really left behind and taken for granted.”

Cottman agrees that part of the challenge has been that both parties have approached the black community as if you don’t necessarily have to speak to their unique and diverse needs. 

In many of the battleground states with tight races, campaigns are looking for new voter bases to draw upon to win. “They really need to make sure that they engage in the API electorate and invest in that, because we’re only growing in terms of numbers. And  we’re showing that we are coming out to vote on a regular basis now, as well,” advices Chen.

One of the similarities between the Latino and the Asian American electorate is that the campaigns do not reach out to those communities in a manner that is culturally appropriate or translating materials into languages to make them accessible. Engaging with these communities only during the election cycle does not spark trust in the long term.  

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Producer/Founder of DesiCollective Media, where she creates audio, video and written content that impacts the South Asian diaspora. She is also a writer for magazine...