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Courting the Youth Vote: How Both Parties Plan to Target Asian-American Millennials

The Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee are also launching new ways to court young Asian-American voters ahead of 2016.
Image: U.S. Citizens Head To The Polls To Vote In Presidential Election
A new study concludes that with significant voter outreach, Asian-American youth voter turnout has the potential to rise significantly above previous levels for midterm elections, growing from a mere 37 percent to as high as 63 percent. Edward Linsmier / Getty Images

With the "millennial" generation projected to surpass the number of "baby boomers" in the United States, the youth vote continues to be a key voting bloc for national presidential candidates.

Despite an overall decline in participation of voters under 30 between 2008 and 2012, exit poll data from 2012 showed a majority of young voters went to the polls for President Obama, especially in swing states.

The power of the youth vote has not gone unnoticed by Democrats and Republicans, who are hoping to court the more than 46 million eligible 18 to 29-year-old voters ahead of the 2016 election. And with a rapidly growing Asian-American electorate that is expected to double by 2040, both the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee are also launching new ways to court young Asian-American voters.

To reach younger voters, DNC spokesman Eric Walker told NBC News that the DNC is splitting its efforts by reaching out to young voters on social media and through local events. In January, the DNC also plans to launch ProgressAAPI, which includes initiatives aimed at engaging young Asian-American voters and exposing them to Democratic candidates and campaigns.

“When [voters] can see that they have an elected official at their doorstep or on their TVs or smartphones, it makes an impression."

“We’re working on a lot of social media engagement, but that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a work in progress. You can’t just flip a switch and engage the community,” Walker said.

During a recent DNC Google Hangout training session, Kota Mizutani, a third-year undergraduate student at Brown University and treasurer of Brown’s Asian American Student Association praised the DNC's efforts, telling NBC News that the video chat-based sessions showed the DNC cared about young voters’ positions.

“It’s helpful for us to have this comprehensive review for different tips and steps," Mizutani said. "My main takeaway was how to get connected with the state party."

RELATED: Hillary Clinton Goes After Asian-American Vote with New Outreach Director

Walker said that the strategy of engaging local communities will be key as the Asian-American electorate grows. “Engaging state parties is a huge piece of it," he said. "There are large AAPI populations in Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, and Florida, which are major swing states for the presidential election. We’re strengthening state parties in all states, but we’re working with those states to engage the AAPI population.”

The Republican Party has also made direct efforts to engage young voters on a local level. This past summer, the RNC launched the Republican Leadership Initiative aimed at recruiting and training the next generation of Asian-American leaders and community organizers. The RNC also released a video featuring young Asian Americans explaining why they support the Republican Party.

RELATED: As Asian-American Electorate Grows, GOP Aims to Turn Local Wins National

According to Jason Chung, national director for the RNC's Asian Pacific American Advisory Council, the RNC is encouraging candidates to write op-eds in local and regional ethnic papers in order to deliver the party's messages in native Asian languages.

“When [voters] can see that they have an elected official at their doorstep or on their TVs or smartphones, it makes an impression," Chung told NBC News. "I’m a big fan of what Tip O’Neill said — that from a certain perspective, local elected officials with local constituents can have a national effect.”

While Asian-American voter turnout across the country has seen a decline over the past two decades, according to Pew, a recent demographic report by Asian Americans Advancing Justice showed the growing power of Asian-American voters in swing states like Nevada, whose population of registered Asian-American voters grew 157 percent between 2004 and 2012. Asian-American voter turnout in Nevada also increased in those eight years by 128 percent.

RELATED: New Report Reveals Disparities Throughout Asian America in Western U.S.

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, Asian-American youth voter participation saw a 5-point drop in 2014 — the lowest turnout among non-white voting groups, according to CIRCLE director Kei Kawashima.

"Millennials and college-aged kids with their parents want an open conversation and dialogue."

Kawashima told NBC News that, while those numbers will likely bounce back in 2016 for the national election, the turnout drop is significant. “From conventional political science, it makes no sense,” Kawashima said, pointing to studies that show that youth with college experience have a higher turnout rate than youth with no college experience.

According to Pew, nearly two-thirds of Asians have a college degree or higher.

“It’s the group that really would turn out, if asked, but they just aren’t doing that right now," Kawashima said. She adds that outreach to local communities has a huge effect on turnout which will increase turnout twofold among low-propensity voters.

Beyond actively courting young Asian-American voters, both Walker and Chung said they believe their parties' positions will appeal to the millennial generation on topics such as inequality, which a 2014 multilingual AAPIData poll found was one of the top issues for the AAPI community.

According to Walker, young Asian-American voters are attracted to the Democrats’ commitment to more affordable higher education, student debt relief, and higher minimum wage. Democrats, he said, are more "pro-immigrant," drawing contrast to the rhetoric from some Republican presidential candidates in the current election cycle — which has not gone unnoticed by some young voters, like Mizutani.

“Immigration is a huge issue that Democrats [are] focused on," Mizutani said. "It’s especially important to young voters who come from undocumented families, but issues like wage equality are very important too. It all goes back to that we do feel welcomed by the Democratic Party in this backdrop."

The Republican Party, on the other hand, believes its message appeals to more real tangible needs of young AAPI voters: jobs and the economy. Chung said that young Asian-American voters support the RNC's message of achieving individual and community goals unhindered by government regulations.

RELATED: Can Texas Republicans Bring Asian America into GOP Tent?

“I think there’s an aspect of fairness that appeals. From tax rate to immigration to things going on in government and in politics, the fairness in trying to find a job and to adhere to trying to get the best education they can," Chung said. "The AAPI community wants a level playing field versus being told where they can and cannot go. Millennials and college-aged kids with their parents want an open conversation and dialogue, they want to figure it out for themselves and get the government out of the way of making decisions for them.”

This screenshot from the RNC's "It's Our Time" video shows the party's effort to court young Asian-American voters.
This screenshot from the RNC's "It's Our Time" video shows the party's effort to court young Asian-American voters.via GOP/Republican Leadership Initiative

But although both parties often focus on the economy in conversations about courting voters, the rhetoric from Republican presidential candidates that some have deemed "anti-immigrant" have raised mild concerns.

“Me personally, I don’t think it would make me jump ship to another party, but it would definitely make me feel very alienated and uncomfortable with the party I am supporting,” Stephanie Wang, third-year undergraduate student at the University of Florida, told NBC News.

RELATED: Enthusiasm High Among Young Asian Americans, But Outreach Is Low

As a college student, Wang said she and her peers were not directly engaged by either party at her university. Instead, Wang said she receives her political news and input through social media—specifically Twitter—making the need to engage young voters online even more critical for both parties as the national election nears.

“If you don’t know the Asian-American communities and don’t understand them, then you’re going to be ignoring a lot of different people. Being grouped together as a big Asian-American community can benefit us politically—we’re a larger group together—but a lot of minority groups within the Asian-American community end up not getting noticed,” Wang said.

NBC News' Traci G. Lee contributed to this report.

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