How Asian Voters Could Swing the Election

BlogHer Original Post

What is the fastest growing racial demographic -- particularly in key swing states, that is keenly watching hot-button issues such as the economy, immigration and healthcare policy, and could play a key role in determining the outcome of the 2012 presidential election?

Asian Americans, of course. What were you thinking?

Exactly.

According to a study released today by the Pew Research Center, Asians are immigrating to the United States in larger numbers than Latinos, reinforcing the Census data that shows that Asian Americans are the fastest growing demographic in the US:

”Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the U.S, with Asians now making up the largest share of recent immigrants.”

Image Credit: Ray_in_LA via Flickr

So why aren’t we hearing the same buzz about the Asian American vote that we are about Latino or women voters?

Republicans -- and to a lesser extent, Democrats –- may be missing out on a big opportunity to influence this key bloc. According to a survey released in May 2012, neither party is doing much to court Asian Americans, even though a whopping 86% of registered Asian and Pacific Islander voters turn up at the polls on election day.

And according to APIA Vote, in several key states—Florida, Virginia and Nevada— Asian Americans could prove to be the swing vote that decides whether the electorate goes toward Romney or Obama.

So why is it so difficult for Asian voters to get the kind of media recognition that’s focused on other demographics? Well, perhaps because within the umbrella category of "Asian American", we’re an extremely diverse group, including Pakistanis, Filipinos, Vietnamese and Koreans. We have many countries of origins, languages, and religions. Some of us are recent immigrants. Others have been here for generations. Which sometimes makes it hard for politicians to know how to address our needs, especially when popular culture regards us as a monolithic "model minority” that succeeds by our own bootstraps and hard work.

Well, take a look at some of these issues that face Asians in America:

Asian Americans have the highest long-term unemployment rate, despite having higher levels of education than whites, Blacks or Latinos.

Studies have also shown that Asians experience the highest rates of bullying -- in school and elsewhere. In October 2011, Private Danny Chen killed himself while serving in the US military in Afghanistan, after reportedly being abused and taunted with racial epithets... by fellow soldiers.

What politicians may not have expected is that Asian Americans are also highly engaged in social media -- and took to the Internet denouncing all of these events. And this week, Asian Pacific Islander activists in Michigan are marking the 30-year anniversary of the beating death of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was killed by Detroit autoworkers upset about Japanese car manufacturing.


What Obama is doing to court Asian voters

Perhaps President Obama, with his background in Hawaii and Indonesia, is taking notice. The Democrats seem to be courting Asian voters more than in previous years, although it doesn’t take much to raise the bar.

In May, the Democrats launched Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Obama. A few weeks later, the President spoke at an Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies gala, the first time a sitting president has attended such an event.


What the GOP needs to do

Which is not to say that Democrats have the Asian vote in the bag. While Asian voters are increasingly casting their ballots to the left, there are still elements of the GOP that appeal to some Asian Americans, such as conservative religious values and pro-business policies. A good analysis of this issue is found in a GQ article from February called “What the GOP Can Learn From Jeremy Lin”.

And yet, we’ve seen already in this campaign season Republican candidates alienating Asian voters, such as Michigan Senate hopeful Pete Hoekstra's xenophobic rhetoric in campaign ads or Arizona Rep. Trent Franks' bill against sex-selective abortions targeting Asian immigrants.

Where was the outcry from fellow Republicans when these things happened? Not to mention that Mitt Romney and John McCain traded heavily on statements about China and Islamic radicals posing potential military threats to the United States. And when a Chinese American woman stepped up to the mic to call Romney on those statements, he brushed it off. (See the incident at 33:32 on this C-SPAN video).

That silence could cost them Asian votes in November. According to Christine Chen, Executive Director of APIA Vote, “Asian American voters will turn strongly against a candidate who expresses anti-Asian views, even if they agree on other issues.”

News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.

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