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Andrew Yang now leading in Asian American donations among Democratic candidates

Asian American donors may not perfectly reflect the Asian American voting population, an expert said.
Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Last Debate Of 2019
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks at a primary debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2019.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Andrew Yang has become the top recipient of Asian American donations among the Democratic presidential candidates.

Yang received about $1.42 million from the Asian American community in the third quarter, according to filings with Federal Election Commission analyzed by AAPI Data, a policy and demographic research organization. It's a jump from the first quarter, when Yang placed fifth, drawing $119,440.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder of AAPI Data, said in an interview that Yang, a technology entrepreneur who founded Venture for America, a nonprofit that promotes job creation, is in a "virtuous cycle" as his name recognition has grown since the first quarter, further fueling his campaign.

"People have seen him as more viable. Therefore, they're more likely to contribute to his campaign, and the cycle continues," Ramakrishnan said. "The fundraising has helped him qualify for the debates and also be taken more seriously as a candidate."

According AAPI Data's analysis, former Vice President Joe Biden remains second among Asian American donors, drawing $846,000, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts moved from the fifth to third, with $738,000. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey was at the top in the first quarter, but he is now fifth in Asian American contributions, with $393,000.

But the Asian American donor population may not perfectly reflect the group's voting population, said Christine Chen, executive director of APIAVote, a nonpartisan civic engagement nonprofit. She said the donor community tends to be less diverse than the overall Asian American and Pacific Islander group, or AAPI, with the lion's share of donors traditionally made up of Chinese American and Indian American contributors.

"The AAPI population is comprised of diverse economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, but the donor population oftentimes reflects folks of certain socioeconomic status," she said. "This is changing, but, overall, the AAPI donor population is less diverse than the actual AAPI voting population."

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For example, in California, the state with the racial group's largest population, a joint survey of Democratic favorability among eligible AAPI voters conducted by AAPI Data and the Public Religion Research Institute indicated that 22 percent found Yang favorable, while 41 percent "haven't heard enough" about him. In comparison, 45 percent found Biden favorable.

Donors are motivated by a variety of factors, such as candidates' ideological preferences, their own policy preferences and the degree to which they feel inspired by or close to a candidate, Ramakrishnan said. But a key driving force is contributors' perception of a candidate's viability.

While Yang's perceived likelihood of winning has risen, Booker is experiencing the opposite, appearing less viable over time, making it more difficult to draw contributions not just from Asian Americans but also from the larger donor population, Ramakrishnan said.

Yang hasn't taken Asian American support for granted, Ramakrishnan said. He was one of just three presidential hopefuls who showed for the first Asian American and Pacific Islander Democratic Presidential Forum, where he not only made news for crowd-surfing but also talked candidly about the bullying he dealt with in his youth as the son of Taiwanese immigrants.

Ramakrishnan said many Asian Americans have held well-attended fundraisers for Yang. Ultimately, Yang "has showed up to events and fundraisers to deepen his level of awareness and maybe get financial support," he said.

On Thursday, the campaigns of Yang and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., both announced that they had surpassed their previous fundraising records in the fourth quarter. Biden also announced that he had his best fundraising quarter to date.