Democratic candidates take on Asian American Pacific Islander issues in Twitter town hall

Kimmy Yam
·2 min read

Immigration policy and data disaggregation were among the topics that Democratic presidential candidates were challenged on during a historic Twitter town hall focused on Asian American and Pacific Islander issues Thursday.

NBC Asian America moderated the #AAPI2020 online discussion in which the presidential hopefuls took on issues Asian American and Pacific Islanders care about during the current primary season.

The virtual town hall — which was hosted by nonprofits Asian Pacific Islander American Vote, Asian American Journalists Association, AAPI Data, and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans — marked the first of its kind to require Democratic candidates to answer to the AAPI constituency. Many social media users noted that the event was one of the rare times they witnessed AAPI issues being discussed at the national level.

Eight candidates took part in the event, including former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, entrepreneur Tom Steyer, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, the only Pacific Islander candidate in the race, also participated.

Candidates were challenged on a number of community-specific topics including data disaggregation and immigration policy, as well as those that impact the larger society, such as gun safety and student debt.

The hourlong forum included a number of significant moments. Gabbard, who is of Asian, Polynesian, and Caucasian descent, spoke out for indigenous voices, claiming they would “be heard and will have a seat at the table in my administration” if elected. Warren, who released her plan to disaggregate data on AAPI across federal agencies the same day, further discussed the topic in the town hall, adding that “data equity is a civil rights issue.” Biden took part in a portion of the town hall and his Asian American surrogate, former Olympian Michelle Kwan, participated on the candidate’s behalf as well.

Thus far, Asian American and Pacific Islander voters have not leaned into any single candidate. Two in 5 Asian American registered voters did not identify themselves as either Democrat or Republican, according to a 2018 survey. An informal survey of 500 voters across Virginia, Texas and Pennsylvania, released by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund showed that the group favored Biden and Warren. However a separate survey showed that in California, the state with the group’s largest population, 45 percent of Asian American voters found Biden favorable and Sanders followed closely behind at 43 percent.