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Parties Ignore Asian-American Voters at their Own Peril

Friday, May 18, 2012

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks at the Rally for Economic Survival at the Cajundome on July 21, 2010 in Lafayette, Louisiana. (Mario Tama/Getty)

In an election year where Latinos have been identified as the voting block that could decide who is the next president, a new poll suggests that another ethnic group - Asian Americans - could also tilt the race in favor of either President Obama or Governor Mitt Romney.

One third of Asian voters are undecided on this presidential election, according to a poll commissioned by several Asian American organizations. While the majority of Asian voters view President Obama favorably (79 percent), only 49 percent rate his job performance as good or better. Mitt Romney has far lower favorable ratings (13 percent), but nearly a third of Asian voters said they had no opinion of him.

Even though the U.S. Asian population grew faster than any other racial group from 2000-2010, reaching 17.3 million people, neither political party has put much effort into tapping them. Only 23 percent of Asians reported being contacted by the Democratic Party, compared to 17 percent of Asians who reported outreach by the Republican party.

Despite the lack of attention Asian Americans have received, their population growth matches the Latino population.

“Taking Asian voters for granted in the short run is a long term loss,” said Toby Chaudhari, the Chairman of APIA Vote, one of the organizations that sponsored the most recent poll. Data from APIA Vote shows that Asian voters remain very loyal to party with whom they first affiliate. 

Like Latinos, Asians are also beginning to organize and see politics as a way to address issues of concern to them. Twenty-five Asian candidates are running for Congress this year, an unprecedented number. Five out of six Asian voters expressed enthusiasm for voting in this year’s elections.

But is there really room for Republicans to do outreach to Asian voters? Of the twenty five candidates running for office, less than twenty percent are running as Republicans. In 2008, Asians voted for Obama by a 3 to 1 margin. Asians also identified the Democratic party as being more in line with their values in this recent poll. 

Yet the most prominent Asian politicians are Republican Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Tea Party favorite, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina. Both Haley and Jindal are Indian American, a community known for making large political donations. Yet ninety percent of Indian-Americans voted Democratic in the 2008 presidential race. 

It leaves open the question if Republicans would receive support from Asian communities if they were to do more outreach. Per this most recent poll,  Asians are far more open to voting for Republicans on the state and Congressional level than they are for president, providing opportunity for Republicans if they are seeking the votes needed to win back the Senate. 

If Republicans were to try to win Asian support, the challenge remains in the wide ranging populations that make up this category. Asian American is defined in the census as any group that is not white, black or Latino. The countries encompassed range from Pakistan to the Philippines. For example, South Asian Americans cite racial profiling as a huge concern, but it’s not an issue that is ranked as significant among Chinese or other East Asian Americans.

Like all Americans, the economy is a main concern for Asians. This group is unemployed for longer stretches of time than the average American. Unlike the majority of the country, however, Asians see the country and the economy moving in the right direction according to this recent poll.

While all campaigns run political outreach for constituency groups, it’s still doubtful if Asian voters will receive significantly more attention this year.

Part of that reason may be sheer numbers. Even though the Asian population is growing rapidly, their total population still puts them at a disadvantage. Adding to that is the fact that most Asians are clustered geographically. Two out of five Asians in the U.S. reside in California.

But in battleground states such as Florida or Virginia Asian voters could make a difference in a tight election. As 4 percent of the voting population in Florida, and with a 38 point advantage for Obama, Asian voters could provide an 88,000 vote margin according to this recent poll sponsored by APIA and other Asian groups. In Virginia the margin would be a little over 40,000 votes.

In Nevada that margin drops to just 9,000 votes. But if 2012 is more like 2000 than 2008 those thousands of votes might make all the difference. And what’s clear is that the rapid growth seen in the last decade portends that Asian American voters are certainly a group to be reckoned with in the future.

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