According to data from the Georgia-based Asian American Advocacy Fund (AAAF), the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is the fastest growing population in the state, with a population that has swelled 138 per cent since 2000 and now totals more than 495,000 people.
While the AAPI population comprises around 4 per cent of Georgia’s population, they have emerged as a key political force. More than 186,000 cast their ballots in November’s general election – over 65,000 more than in 2016, according to data released by the AAAF. Between 2016 and 2020, voter registration grew by more than 80,000.
In January, this diverse community of Asian-Americans from China, Vietnam, South Asia and elsewhere may be a deciding factor in the upcoming run-off state elections for US Senate. Thus, helping to decide which party controls Congress when it reconvenes in early 2021, and setting the course of policy decisions for the next four years of the Biden administration.
Of the total AAPI population in Georgia, about 150,000 are of Indian ethnicity, as well as 75,500 Chinese, 65,900 Korean, 64,500 Vietnamese and 47,400 Filipino, according to AAAF data. There are also smaller populations of other Asian ethnicities, including Japanese, Pakistani, Laotian and Burmese.
In the elections, former vice-president Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, won Georgia by just 12,000 votes – the first time the conservative state voted for a Democratic ticket since 1992. Analysts ascribe the narrow victory to a combination of a high turnout by African-Americans and an increase in the vote of Asian-Americans.
“Even though the Asian-American population is not as large in Georgia as it is in states like California and New Jersey, it was still significant enough, given the margin, that they can be seen as part of Biden’s victory,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of political science at the University of California-Riverside and founder of research group AAPI Data, which tracks demographic statistics of the Asian-American population.
When the Georgia state legislature reconvenes in January, six Asian-Americans will be holding local office, five of them Democrats including incoming Chinese-American State Senator Michelle Au.
In the longer term, analysts believe the presence of Yang and the success of local leaders such as Michelle Au will help ensure that AAPI political participation remains strong in future Georgia elections.
“Research shows that having Asian-American candidates increases political interest, contributions and voting among Asian-American voters,” Ramakrishnan said. “Success breeds success. Seeing prominent Asian-American candidates running for and winning office first encourages more donors to participate, which in turn increases the chance that they win, and encourages more candidates to run. It’s a virtuous circle.”
For both parties, Ramakrishnan said, one of the main lessons of the 2020 election cycle will be to not take the AAPI community lightly.
“There’s variation by geography and also by group,” he said. “Neither the Democrats nor the Republican Party can take these votes for granted. They have to invest in the community in order to earn their support.”