Votes are Up for Grabs
By Jon Melegrito
Letter from Washington
Yes, you got that right. In this year's mid-term elections, Asian Americans are apparently the most desirable voters because most of those who plan to cast ballots are not affiliated with a political party. Not only are they certain to go out and vote, a significant number, 27 percent, remains undecided.
And yet a vast majority, about 70 percent, say they have not been approached, reached out to, seduced, courted, caressed or cajoled by either party.
So, what's going on here?
A new polling data on Asian American voter attitudes released recently reveal that Asian Americans could play a key role in deciding which party controls Congress. Pundits have been predicting a turnover in the Senate, which means Republicans controlling both houses. But with races tightening up as election day approaches, the outcome remains unclear.
And here we are, up for grabs, and neither Democrats nor Republicans are falling over themselves to win us over.
According to the survey commissioned by APIA Vote and the Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Asian Americans make up eight percent or more of the citizen voting-age population in California, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota and New York. Which means that in these congressional districts, Asian Americans are large enough to close the gap in some of these races.
As AAJC President Mee Moua puts it, Asian Americans are "the ideal voter because we get out to vote and we don't vote down party lines. It would be a mistake this election for candidates not to reach out" to this voting bloc.
We could be the swing vote. This actually happened in Nevada six years ago when Sen. Harry Reid won his re-election bid in a very close contest. He acknowledged the support of Filipino Americans as instrumental in his victory. With such political clout, FilAms in Nevada have been able to leverage their voting power. Republicans are now paying attention. The Filipino population in Nevada prides itself in having the largest and fastest rate of growth nationwide. Because of their numbers, ballots and electoral materials are now printed in Tagalog, as mandated by law.
Indeed, our community can play an influential role in choosing officials who will advocate for issues and policies that matter to us. If you recall, 70 percent of Asian Americans voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in his re-election because of his strong stance on immigration reform and health care.
The recent survey confirms this trend by noting that alignment with Democratic ideals is strongest on issues of health care and income inequality, and moderate on gun control and immigration. About half of Asian voters approve of President Obama's job performance, which is considerably more than his current approval rating of 40 percent. Among FilAms, 45 percent approve of what he's doing, 39 percent disapprove and 16 percent don't have an opinion. Half of the FilAms also say they favor Democrats more, while 39 percent view the GOP positively.
Republicans, on the other hand, are viewed more strongly on national security. Asian American Republicans also say they are more enthusiastic than the population at large, which means they are more likely to vote.
The issues most important to Asian Americans are national security (42%), jobs (41%), gun control (40%), and health care (40%).
Interestingly, some 70 percent of FilAms surveyed said they thought politics was too complicated and 63 percent said that politicians just don't care about them.
"Candidates need to put in the time, and really connect with the Asian American community," said Moua, "because Asian Americans vote based on the candidate and the issues the candidate stands for."
The survey was done from Aug. 14 to Sept. 11 with 1,337 telephone interviews of registered voters all across the nation. Of the ethnic groups surveyed, 230 were Chinese, 210 Filipino, 230 Asian Indian, 212 Japanese, 224 Korean and 231 Vietnamese.
Record High Numbers
There are 22 Asian American and Pacific Islander candidates on the ballot in 12 different states and U.S. territories in this year's elections. These are "record high numbers," according to APAICS, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Asian American & Pacific Islander participation and representation at all levels of the political process. Six years ago, only 13 candidates ran for Congress in the 2008 general elections. This time, 39 candidates ran in the 2014 primaries, quadrupling AAPI involvement since 2008.
On the state and local level, 159 AAPI's are running for state legislature seats across the country. The continued growth of AAPI's seeking elected offices, APAICS notes, "reflects the changing demographics, increased political awareness, and maturity of the community. Today, the AAPI community constitutes the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States."
Despite these optimistic numbers, the community still faces many obstacles to equal participation and representation. Citing the survey, APAICS notes that "the scarce interactions between AAPI's and political parties demonstrate the challenges AAPI communities face to full participation in the political process. It is vital that levels of AAPI political participation and representation match the growth of the community. Despite breakthroughs for AAPI's in federal elected offices, only 14 members out of the 485 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are AAPI.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, an African American, is the only congressman of Filipino descent in today's Congress. Steve Austria of Ohio served for only one term, from 2009-2013.