Asian Americans represent the fastest growing demographic segment in this country and a critical voting bloc. But, according to a newly released, first-of-its-kind poll, neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to be taking note.
The Lake Research Partners poll is the first to gauge political attitudes among Asian American voters, who are largely aligned with the Democratic Party—by a margin of three to one.
Another 31 percent, however, are also registered independents. And that, says pollster Celinda Lake, could determine the outcome of key races in several swing states.
Lake spoke during a teleconference recently announcing the release of the poll, which surveyed 713 registered voters nationwide. Its release was timed to coincide with the start of Asian American Heritage Month.
“In Virginia,” for example, “the Asian American population has increased 70 percent over the last decade,” said Christine Chen with the non-partisan APIA Vote. Representing close to 7 percent of the state’s population, Chen stressed that in a close race Asian and Pacific Islander (API) voters could be key to determining election results.
The question is whether parties or candidates are able or willing to engage them.
Nationwide, there are an estimated 17.3 million people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, comprising 5.6 percent of the population. Communities, moreover, are emerging beyond traditional population centers like California and Hawaii, spelling a greater political presence in such states as Pennsylvania and Illinois.
According to Lake, the number of registered API voters has grown 46 percent since 2000. Of them, 83 percent say they are certain to vote come November. Still, fewer than one-in-five said they had been contacted by either of the parties.
“Presidential candidates and political parties ignore Asian American voters at their own peril,” noted Lake.
On the presidential candidates, one third of respondents said they had no firm impression of Mitt Romney. And while 73 percent gave a favorable personal rating for President Obama, in terms of his job performance the numbers were evenly split at 49 percent.
Democrats, however, held an advantage when it came to issues of fairness and social values. They also ranked more favorably on health care, education and immigration.
In terms of where the country is headed, 50 percent said things are moving in a generally positive direction. Though when it comes to the economy, respondents’ views were less positive, with 48 percent describing conditions as “just fair,” and another 31 percent ranking them as “poor.”
The poll, which was conducted in English, as well as Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese, also found that for a large majority—65 percent—television was the surest way of reaching Asian voters. Another 40 percent said they get their news via the Internet and social media, while 30 percent said they use newspapers.
Asked to speculate on why the parties had failed to reach out to API voters, Asian American Justice Center President Mee Moua pointed out that as a former candidate of color, her strategy involved “tailored outreach” to specific communities. It’s an issue, she added, that “most mainstream candidates struggle with.”
This year, at least 19 Asian American candidates will be competing in congressional races, up from 8 in 2010. Another 13 incumbents claim API heritage. Their numbers are further proof of the rising political engagement of the API community.
Still, impediments remain. According to the poll, one-fifth of respondents said they would be more likely to vote if they had in-language assistance. Lake pointed out that a majority of API voters speak a language besides English at home, and that 58 percent were born outside the country.
Speaking on the wave of voter suppressions laws being passed in states like Texas, Georgia and Florida, Chen admitted more needs to be done to educate voters. “These laws,” she said, “could have a chilling effect on people’s commitment to go to the polls … More voter education is needed to ensure the franchise.”
When asked why they vote, a majority answered they did so out of a sense of civic duty. A large percentage also said they voted for the candidates who touched them personally.
“Once we are engaged, we actually do turn out to vote,” said Moua, who added that the regional and political diversity of the API community opens the door to important opportunities for both parties.
When it comes to engagement, however, “neither party is doing a very good job.”