Engaging Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Voters: Accomplishments from Georgia’s Runoff

In both the November general election and January runoff election in Georgia, Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters turned out in record numbers and demonstrated that they are not a group to be forgotten or overlooked.

Our AAPI coalition at the Democratic Party of Georgia (DPG) is so proud to have uplifted the voices, stories, and work of our diverse AAPI communities in the weeks leading up to the runoff election. To some, we proved the impossible by flipping the Senate and voting Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff into power. But to many of us, this victory was an inevitable and natural outcome reflecting years of coalition-building and community organizing in all corners of Georgia. We want to acknowledge the large ecosystem of AAPI organizations and leaders for whom we are forever grateful. Our team is honored to have played just a small part in this journey.

Below, we summarize our collective accomplishments and share what we learned about how to effectively engage AAPI voters.

How we did it: our collective accomplishments

We knew all along that AAPI voters could be the margin of victory and that we’d need record turnout to flip GA blue.

Moreover, we wanted to set the bar high for what AAPI outreach should look like at a minimum on an inclusive campaign. To meet our ambitious goals, we had three core principles and commitments: 1) meeting voters where they were, 2) building visibility for AAPI communities and celebrating the richness and diversity of the Asian diaspora, and 3) partnering with activists and our community leaders on the ground and nationally, without whom none of our work would be possible.

Meeting our community where they are:

All of our team’s plans centered around the fundamental belief that if we wanted to harness the full potential of AAPI voters’ political power, we had to meet them where they were.

This meant that for all of our direct voter contact work, we were recruiting AAPI volunteers to speak directly to members in their community. We knew that this would make voters feel more comfortable while simultaneously resulting in a better volunteer experience too. This also meant we prioritized language accessibility — the literature our canvassers walked with were translated in 5 AAPI languages, and our phone bankers also had access to in-language scripts. Our fantastic voter protection team was also available to speak to voters in 6 different languages.

Our canvass literature was translated into 5 languages.

We were very loud about acknowledging that AAPIs are not a monolith and that the best outreach is that done within our own tight-knit communities. As such, we had lists to call 16 different AAPI communities: Chinese, Filipino, Gujarati, Hmong, Iranian, Ismaili, Japanese, Korean, Nepali, Punjabi, South Asian, Muslim, Telugu, Thai (first ever known phone bank list for the Thai community!), and Vietnamese voters in addition to our general AAPI list. We also held a weekly AAPI Women’s phone bank to create a space for AAPI women and allies to call other AAPI women.

In total, our volunteer phone bankers made 46,000 calls to AAPI voters in the last three weeks of the campaign, and used each other as resources. This kind of interaction on our phone bank Zoom chats was commonplace:

“Can someone who speaks Korean call this voter?”

“Sure I just ended a call — on my way!”

Volunteers also canvassed 18,756 AAPI voters with translated literature from 9 different staging locations in the last 4 days of the election alone. At these staging locations, we created AAPI-branded events to increase volunteer turnout and build community within our volunteer network.

The importance of our AAPI-to-AAPI voter outreach cannot be understated. As one volunteer shared,

“I was calling and people were taken aback when they got people pronouncing their names. I think it made all the difference sometimes.”

And yet, we knew that if we really wanted to reach every voter, we had to think outside the box. In an election where Georgia’s voters were receiving numerous calls and texts a day, we had to get creative.

Enter our WhatsApp program, one of the projects we’re most proud to have launched in partnership with the Ossoff campaign (shoutouts to Ken Gonzales, Brendan Chan, and Claris Chang!). We know that many Asian-Americans engage with their friends and family outside of normal text platforms, on platforms like WhatsApp. Once we figured out how to assign lists of targeted voters to volunteers, the program took off quickly. In the last four days of the election alone, volunteers sent 66,000 messages, many of which were in-language.

Examples of our WhatsApp conversations feature above. In the second and third images, the volunteer switched to communicating in-language when there was confusion around the Election Day and voting.

Similar to our phone bank efforts, volunteers could choose to select one of nine different Asian communities to message.

Along with selecting a community to message, volunteers could also join a WhatsApp support group that allowed them to help each other craft responses and speak to those in each other’s communities when the need arose. This way there was a unified coalition creating messages that supported all of our diverse AAPI communities specifically, while still allowing for a program that scaled and sent 32,000 messages on Election Day.

The results of this program? While we’re still analyzing the data, we have no doubt that this innovative outreach method had an impact on the closing days of the election. One volunteer explained,

“This has been wayyy better than any text banking I’ve done before. I’m convinced it’s because the Indian aunties and uncles see my profile pic and know I’m Indian and are being nicer.”

Finally, we’d be remiss not to talk about relational organizing. Especially in AAPI communities, we knew that hard-to-reach voters would be more likely to vote if they heard from someone they knew. For youth, this was probably even more true. As such, we created a virtual “Turn Up the Vote: Let’s Link!” relational organizing party in which more than 50 youth attendees reached out to their personal family and friends to vote, and additionally sent over 10,000 texts to young AAPI voters in Georgia. And it truly was a party — DJ Jason Chu and a series of performers and celebrities kept us all entertained while we texted!

Building visibility and celebrating the richness and diversity of the Asian diaspora

A key measure of success for our team was our ability to build visibility for the communities we represented and served. We wanted to celebrate and showcase the richness and diversity of the Asian diaspora in Georgia and amplify AAPI voices.

The first way we delivered on this was through our in-person events. Though COVID-19 posed a lot of limitations, we still innovated to find ways to host events that prioritized attendees’ health and safety.

South Asian performers, Saagar Thakkar and Shivani Gandhi, performed at our International Festival in Stone Mountain on the first weekend of early voting.

On the first weekend of early voting, we partnered with other coalition teams, Team Ossoff, and Team Warnock to host an outdoor International Festival for immigrant communities in an area of Dekalb County rarely visited by politicians. Sixteen different groups representing several regions around the world performed throughout the day, and the event culminated with Rev. Warnock reminding us all of what was at stake in this election.

Anita Aysola, a jazz vocalist, performed at our Bollywood Red Carpet event on Election Night Eve.

On the evening before the election, our AAPI Coalition put on a high-visibility, festive “New Year, New Senate: Roll Out the Bollywood Red Carpet” event in a Patel Brothers parking lot with food trucks, entertainment, and AAPI leaders and surrogates. We wanted to go all-out to celebrate and showcase our cultures through song, dance and food, while drawing in AAPI voters who may not have otherwise engaged with the campaigns. We also used the event as well as small business raffle prizes to recruit volunteer canvassers. The evening included everything from bhangra dance performances to a demonstration on “how to make the perfect cup of chai.” Between acts, participants enjoyed listening to DJ and taking pictures in our photobooth and on our literal red carpet!

Another key aspect of our goal of both building visibility and meeting voters where they were was our paid media plan. In partnership with our amazing partner organizations such as They See Blue, we adapted video content to place ads on YouTube for Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and South Asian audiences. We also purchased ad space in print outlets and online publications such as the Korea Daily and World Journal Atlanta. And while we wish we’d had time to do more, we were thrilled to place a couple of ads on radio and TV.

Prioritizing partnerships and collaboration

Our small but mighty team only formed as DPG’s AAPI Coalition 3 weeks before the runoff election date and on the first day of early voting. Time was most definitely not on our side, and we knew immediately that the only way we would be effective was if we partnered with AAPI activists and organizations on-the-ground in Georgia and nationally. AAPI organizers in Georgia had been mobilizing their communities for years and a part of our team’s role had to be uplifting their incredible work.

As such, we created a common linktr.ee website on which we published both our campaign’s AAPI event as well as those of our partner organizations. It was an honor working alongside the fearless AAPI directors for the Ossoff and Warnock campaigns, Cam Ashling and Vyanti Joseph, respectively. And organizations like They See Blue Georgia recruited several canvassers and phone bankers to work with us.

We also extend enormous thanks to all of the AAPIs for Biden affinity groups who not only helped win a presidency but turned around and got right back to work on winning the Senate. These organizations and leaders built a powerful infrastructure, leading phone banks on their own and directing in-Georgia volunteers our way. We look forward to continuing the work and partnership in the months and years to come.

With love from Team AAPI,

Linh Nguyen, Prerna Bhat, Sarah Shah, Taher Hasanali, Paul Bradfield, Isabella Kumar, Jen D. Rafanan, Angela Chen, Neha Patkar, Jennifer Truc Le, Asna Ashfaq, Richard Peay, Patrick Yu

Official account for the Democratic Party of Georgia.