Just half a year after taking the position, Hillary Clinton’s Director of AAPI Outreach will be leaving the Democratic primary frontrunner’s presidential campaign for a position with the Colorado Democratic Party.
Lisa Changadveja — who began working for the Clinton campaign during the 2007-2008 cycle and who served as AAPI and LGBTQ outreach director for a Clinton-affiliated SuperPAC during the 2012-2013 election — was named the Clinton campaign’s official Director of AAPI Outreach late last summer. During her tenure as Hillary for America’s AAPI Outreach Director, Changadveja eschewed traditional outreach approaches in favour of on-the-ground events held in predominantly Asian American neighbourhoods to improve the Clinton campaign’s visibility with potential voters.
Changadveja described her strategy to The Nation earlier this year:
“Even though hanging out in Chinatown might not be the most efficient way to talk to a voter, at least [Asian Americans] are seeing that we’re trying, and we’re not ignoring them,” said Lisa Changadveja, the AAPI outreach director for the Clinton campaign. To Clinton’s credit, the position was created in her 2007–08 presidential campaign, Changadveja said. She had decided to do fewer traditional get-out-to-caucus activities like phone-banking and instead sent volunteers and staffers to show their faces in Asian neighborhoods. “I’m trying to break the cycle,” Changadveja told me. “A lot of what I hear from the community is we don’t get involved because [campaigns] don’t reach out to us. And political campaigns say they don’t reach out because [Asians] don’t get involved in the political process.”
The AAPI electorate is one of the fastest-growing in the country, and strategists on both sides of the aisle have taken steps to woo AAPI voters. The Clinton campaign has developed a robust “AAPI for Hillary” outreach effort while her primary opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, recently met with a group of Asian and Arab American community leaders for a private conference. (Here’s performance artist Kristina Wong’s hot take on that event.)
Although Gallup finds that Sanders is better liked among Asian American voters, Clinton campaign organizers believe that their efforts to improve Asian American voter turnout swept Clinton to a caucus victory in the state.
Yet, exit polls from the 2016 primary season paint a slightly different picture. Surveys suggests that despite the valiant efforts of Asian American community leaders, Asian American voter turnout remains frustratingly low. Despite statements by Clinton campaign organizers, Asian American voters were a mere 4% of Democratic caucus goers in Nevada (where we make up 8% of the population), and only 2% of voters who cast a ballot in Virginia (where Asian Americans are 6% of the population). By comparison, Asian Americans voted in the 2016 Democratic primary in Virginia at similar (or possibly even lower) rates as we did in the 2008 Democratic primaries despite efforts to improve turnout. In both states, Asian American voter turnout was so low that exit polling was unable to determine candidate choice. This may be a sign that the AAPI community remains unexcited by either Democratic candidate this cycle, and that there is more work to be done to bring our voters to the polls.
It is unclear whether low Asian American voter turnout impacted Changadveja’s decision to leave or how Changadveja’s departure will impact Clinton’s AAPI outreach or turnout efforts, but it seems an inauspicious time given that several states with populous AAPI communities will be holding their Democratic primary elections in the upcoming weeks. The campaign announced they will be naming a new AAPI Outreach Director soon.