Going Public: How Asian American Vote Could Impact Presidential Election

Sep 16, 2016

Credit Courtesy of Alton Wang

 A 2012 census bureau report showed Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the nation. But with election season in full swing, Asian American voices are largely being left out of the political conversation. KRCU's Marissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with Alton Wang, a Communications and Development Associate from the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote--or APIAVote to explain why this is.

Lewis-Thompson: Why are we missing out or just not hearing from Asian American voices this political season?

Wang: Right. And I think a lot of that has to do with the growth that is happening in the community still, right? I think Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are still a smaller community in the country. Our population is definitely not as large as other racial ethnic groups. But one thing that people tend to also not know is that Asian Americans [and] Pacific Islanders [are] actually the fastest growing population in the country today. So, I think sometimes it's in terms of numbers when you're thinking about either you're talking from an election standpoint, or just even reaching out to a broader swath of the American public. Asian Americans [and] Pacific Islanders still make up a smaller percentage of the broader society. And I think sometimes that kind of leaves us on the margins and kind of precludes us from being apart of the conversation.

Lewis-Thompson: Well tell me a little bit about why our presidential candidates need to be focused on Asian American voters?

Wang: Sure. I mean I think that both parties and both campaigns really need to be focusing on our communities, because as I said a little bit earlier the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing population in the country. Immigration from China and India  and you know Asia more broadly has already far surpassed that of Central Latin America. And even today, most of the immigration through to the United States is coming from Asia. But more importantly I think one thing that we have to also point out is that Asian Americans as an electorate is also growing at a very rapid pace. By 2040, the Asian American electorate specifically is going to double in size. Right now, we're at out 5.9 million eligible voters and we're going go jump up to about 12.2 million eligible voters. And within the last three presidential cycles beginning in 2000, each presidential cycle has seen about 620,000 new Asian American eligible voters enter the electorate. So, our electorate is growing at a really rapid pace. So, if they want to better engage and really reach out to all aspects of the American electorate and in order to you know really focus campaigns and many states across the country targeting our communities is really critical to winning votes.

Lewis-Thompson: Well on top of that you really can't talk about the Asian community without talking about immigration. And that's been a hot button issue this entire election season. Most of the conversations however have focused primarily on Mexicans. Where do Asians and Asian Americans stand on this particular issue?

Wang: Right. I think Asian Americans are generally supportive of immigration reform, right? Because immigration reform is something that still really impacts our community today, because a lot of the population growth that has happened for our community has only happened because of changes in immigration policies beginning in the '60s, right? Before that we know American history is riddled with exclusion acts that have specifically targeted Chinese American, Asian American communities. So, immigration is something that is very intertwined and marked in Asian American history, but also in our you know current discourse today. And I think one thing that's really critical for our communities is that anti-immigrant rhetoric really does impact the Asian American voter. So what we have found--actually we did a survey and we released it in May 2016--the 2016 Asian American voters survey. And what we found is that Asian American voters 40 percent of them will vote for another candidate if their original candidate espoused anti-immigrant rhetoric. So that's really important for us to know that Asian American voters are actually really turned off and turned away from anti-immigrant rhetoric. And the same holds true with anti-Muslim rhetoric, because we know that you know a lot of Muslim Americans are also Asian American. There is a very deep intertwined connection between these identities. 43 percent of Asian American registered voters would vote for another candidate if their original candidate espoused anti-Muslim rhetoric. So, I think that these issues are really key in engaging our communities for both sides to understand how to properly address our communities.

Lewis-Thompson: How crucial is the young Asian American vote?

Wang: One thing that we are very aware of is that the Asian American youth vote is something that still needs a lot of work. Right? Asian American youth do register to vote and turnout to vote at lower rates than peer groups, and we're very keenly aware of that. Even though on the aggregate level, Asian American youth are more educated. And usually high education levels are correlated with higher rates of voting. But you know Asian American youth really are as you said a little bit earlier, I think a key a demographic to be watching right now. So you know on that same point that I just mentioned about you know not accepting anti-immigrant rhetoric, 51 percent of Asian American youth between the ages of 18-34 would vote for another candidate if they espoused anti-immigrant views. And that number jumps even higher if they espouse anti-Muslim rhetoric. 73 percent of Asian American youth between the ages of 18-34 would vote for another candidate if the original candidate if the original candidate espoused anti-Muslim views. So, I think this is really emblematic of where this community is going. And you know how to engage this community, right? The ways you're engaging this community today have to be very dynamic in the since that it will be ever evolving, because this community is very diverse. Dozens of languages are spoken within our broader Asian American/ Pacific Islander community. And then how you engage them is really with at where our youth are today. And I think as we are also engaging our youth more and as the growth in the Asian American community moves from immigration to actually native born growth that's going to be really key in how to engage the AAPI community.

Lewis-Thompson: So you just mentioned that young Asian American voters aren't coming out and voting as much as their peers in other racial groups. Why is that?

Wang: I think there are a multitude of factors. And this is mainly in my experience, specifically I think when I've been working with Asian American youth a lot of it has to do with family. It has to deal with your upbringing. It has to do with generational differences. A lot of our parents mine included are first generation Americans. They don't really understand the voting process. And they don't really understand our representative democracy in the ways that you know people who have been here for generations do. So even my friends who are fourth, fifth or even sixth generation Asian American have a much quicker grasp on the need and importance to vote than my friends that are second generation or even first generation newly immigrated to the United States. So, what we know that you know in the family if your parents or you know your guardians don't vote you are also less likely to vote. Right? I think there is also that conversation that happens with political identity where your parents are versus where you are. I think that this really translates even more broadly into whether or not you vote. So, you know if we want to be able to shift that tide in the future where more Asians Americans more broadly, but also specifically Asian American youth vote, we have to start that now so future generations won't be impacted by this trend.

Lewis-Thompson: How likely is it for it to change? Or when will it change for young Asian American voters to start turning up to the election booths?

Wang: I think that's actually happening now. I think there is a greater conversation within our communities today than ever before. I know for a fact that 2016 is actually going to be the largest mobilization of Asian American and Pacific Islander voters in I think history. Right? And that has to do with a multitude of factors. It has to do with  obviously growth in the community. This is the largest our community has ever been in the country. But more importantly this is the most number of individuals in our community that are citizens that are now looking to talking about voting, especially with rhetoric and conversations that have been going on in this election cycle. So, I think that this conversation is being sparked among our youth and the tide is starting to turn, but it's about having those conversations consistently you know throughout not just election year, but beyond election year that will really help shift the tide.


Lewis-Thompson: Well what are some of the issues that need to be discussed that are crucial to getting the Asian American vote?

Wang: Sure. I think you know one thing that I always stress to people is that the Asian American electorate is the American electorate. The issues that the Asian American electorate cares about is the issue that the broader American electorate cares about. Right? Asian American voters are American voters. And American voters represent what Asian American voters care about. So issues that are really from our survey that we did in May, what we found is that the issues that are deemed extremely important by Asian American voters are things like education, jobs in the economy, terrorism, gun control. These are things that Asian American voters said were very important--sorry extremely important to them in this year's election. And that's very similar to the broader American electorate  as well. So I think that when we talk about Asian American voters. What care about is what American voters care about.

Lewis-Thompson: So what you're saying is there shouldn't be a distinction on how we look at their vote. It should be unified as the American vote. Correct?

Wang: I think that's not necessarily what I was getting at. I think I'm getting at more towards the issues. So, the issues that we address, there is no one issue that's going to galvanize the Asian American community. Right? The issues that our communities care about are the issues that the American voter cares about, but when we're you know reaching out to Asian American voters there needs to actually be some more specific attention, because a lot of our community is limited English proficient. So there needs to be special attention paid to language access and the most culturally sensitive means of engaging the community, when you know a lot of our community receives their political news from ethnic media sources. We need to know that oh to engage the community, you know a lot of the community might not be be reading the traditional New York Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal. You have to go into the ethnic media sources. So I think it's not that engaging the electorate is still unique in some ways, but the issues that we care about are what the American electorate cares about.