The Asian-American Yang supporters I talked with were initially drawn to him because they were thrilled to see one of their own mount a presidential run. “It took me 15 years to get to this point,” says Ling Luo, the founder of the Asian American Democratic Club, a national political organization. “I’ve been working in Chinese American politics for 15 years, and we finally have someone from our community venturing out to represent us and to serve the country.” David Tian, an English teacher, told me that he began supporting Yang because he was “happy to see an Asian American man running for president.”
Yang has especially galvanized younger Asian voters, as well as a significant portion of Chinese Americans without firm party affiliations. Almost all of the Yang supporters I talked with told me that they had never before volunteered for a campaign. “This is the first time I really hooked onto a campaign and helped out as much as I could,” says Andy Wong, a software engineer involved with the group Massachusetts Yang Gang.
“What’s fascinating with the Andrew Yang phenomenon is that you’ve seen a younger generation [of Asian Americans], more native born, showing a heightened level of interest on the Democratic side,” says Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political-science professor at UC Riverside, who studies the Asian American electorate. “You’re seeing as much, if not more, of that activism on the left as you once saw on the right.”
Yang’s success at blunting conservative Asian energy is even starker among donors: From July to September 2019, according to an analysis by the research group AAPI Data, Yang had received $1.4 million in Asian American contributions, more than any other Democratic candidate. Most of this money came from Chinese Americans, a striking fact considering that from January to March last year, Trump received 56 percent of all Chinese American political contributions. Six months later, the president had garnered just 18 percent, while Yang’s share of donations had skyrocketed from 9 to 44 percent.
Yang isn’t the only force that dampened the conservative drift of Asian Americans. The momentum was already beginning to slow by the time his campaign took off, largely because of the community’s unfavorable views toward Trump. The president has made some Asian voters uncomfortable by “aligning the Republican Party so clearly and consistently as a white-nationalist party that is unwelcoming of certain immigrants, of certain religions, and of certain races,” Taeku Lee, a professor of law and political science at Berkeley, told me in an email. Jeff Xie, a Chinese-American Republican, told me that he started supporting Yang when Trump’s harsh stance toward immigrants made him “too divisive.”
Read: What Yang voters really want
Anti-affirmative-action activists were dealt another major setback in October 2019, when a federal judge rejected the Harvard lawsuit. As conservatives within the community regrouped, Yang backers pushed him on the social network that once drove the grassroots campaign against affirmative action. Chi Zhang, a researcher who studies WeChat, told me that political blogs on the platform have played a large role in increasing Yang’s profile among Chinese Americans. “Because he’s an Asian American candidate ... there is a massive ecosystem working to push [his] visibility,” she said.