Lack Of Diversity In First Presidential Primary Debate Prompts Asian American Leaders To Organize Their Own Representation

Thousands of AAPI Leaders from Across The Country to Gather in Orange County, CA on Sunday, September 8, to Hold Presidential Forum and National Community Action Summit

WASHINGTON – There has never been an Asian American or Pacific Islander presidential primary debate moderator, according to a recent analysis. NBC announced five moderators today for the first Democratic presidential debate later this month.

“With the most diverse group of candidates ever running for the presidency, including three AAPI presidential candidates, community leaders across the country see a real need to represent a powerful and growing force of voters,” said Shekar Narasimhan, chair of the AAPI Victory Fund.

“It’s time to break the bamboo ceiling on who asks the questions and represents today’s voters,” said Narasimhan. “We’re seeing dramatic year-to-year increases in Asian American voter turnout coast-to-coast. Local community leaders are activating the full power of their networks and combining their national strength to restore our democracy.”

Thousands of AAPI leaders are planning to participate in a community action summit on the weekend of September 7-8 in Orange County, Calif., to showcase their emerging movement and elevate causes that are important to the AAPI community.

In the first-ever Democratic Forum focused on AAPIs, AAPI Victory Fund and their California partner Asian Americans Rising, will feature AAPI questioners for presidential contenders.

“Moderators wield a lot of power in which questions are asked and also visibility for their respective communities, and it is important for Democratic voters to feel represented,” said Varun Nikore, president of the AAPI Victory Fund. “Time after time again, the phrases ‘AAPIs are the fastest growing minority’ and ‘AAPIs are the swing vote with a high number of independent voters’ have been repeated by both the DNC and candidates alike, yet there hasn’t been a true push by campaigns to reach out to AAPI voters and voter registration.”

An analysis of online data from the American Presidency Project and the University of Virginia Center for Policy Research released Thursday by Time’s Up looked at 132 primary debates in presidential races from 1996 through 2016. It counted primary debates, undercard or “secondary” debates, radio debates and some town halls and forums.

In nearly three-quarters of primary debates (73 percent or 96 debates), the moderators were all white and in 44 percent or 58 debates, there were no female moderators. Only 1 in 5 primary debates had at least one black moderator, and 11 percent had at least one Latinx one.

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Joyce Liu