How APIA Voters Will Impact the Election

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On left: Panelists Daphne Kwok and Karthick Ramakrishnan


The Northern California chapter of the Asia Society hosted a panel on October 24th: “The Race 2012: Asian Americans and the U.S. Presidential Election.”  With less than two weeks before Election Day, the panelists had a lively and at times contentious discussion about the election and the APIA community -- with occasional updates on Game 1 of the World Series. 


The panel was moderated by Asia Society board member Sydnie Kohara and included:




(L-R) Daphne Kwok, Karthick Ramakrishnan, Samson Wong and Bill Ong Hing


Highlights from the panel’s discussion (paraphrased):


Concept of Asian Americans as a singular voting bloc (Bill Ong Hing):


I don’t believe there is a unified Asian American voting bloc.  It’s hard to say there’s any one unifying policy issue or political view facing Asian Americans…The vast majority of Asian Americans in the U.S. don’t even call themselves ‘Asian Americans.’ There are too many nuances by national origin and that’s the danger of candidates treating Asian Americans as a monolithic group.


What makes me uncomfortable even when we talk about Filipino voters or Vietnamese voters that there’s diversity with each community, particularly generational and by class.  To me, the one issue that might be unifying is the experience of being a minority and discrimination.


Importance of Asian Americans in swing states (Daphne Kwok):


The huge increase of the AAPI population in Clark County, Nevada is going to matter this election with Nevada being a swing state. There has been an increase in organizing among the Asian American community -- Filipino Americans in particular.


Impact of the voter turnout of the Presidential election on other elections (Samson Wong):


The Presidential election will probably have a tsunami effect with the other elections down-ticket. With higher voter turnout during Presidential election season, this could impact a number of Congressional races where Asian Americans are in the running -- this could ultimately affect the composition of the House and Senate.


Findings from 2012 National Asian American Survey (Karthick Ramakrishnan):


The top 4 issues important to Asian Americans are similar to the rest of the country: the economy, jobs, health care, and education.


One of the interesting results from our survey is the higher levels of support among Asian Americans for the Affordable Care Act than other racial/ethnic groups, even with some variation within Asian Americans. We also asked a similar question using the term “Obamacare”.  What’s interesting is that Vietnamese Americans disapprove of the ACA when the term “Obamacare” is used, compared to Indian Americans who approve it more when the term is used. 


Out of all the racial/ethnic groups, Asian Americans have the highest percentage of immigrants, more than Latinos, which can seem surprising.


Issues facing Asian Americans ignored by both Presidential candidates (Bill Ong Hing):


Both Romney and Obama have not reached out enough to Asian American communities or targeted issues that are important to them, the way they have done so with the Latino community on immigration. Neither Romney nor Obama have commented on the deportation issue facing Cambodian and Vietnamese Americans or the backlog of visas -- these are all issues salient to Asian Americans. Obama has deported and detained more people in his first term than G.W. Bush did in his two terms. Could Romney increase deportations even more? Probably.


Importance of greater representation of Asian Americans in political office and advisory boards (Daphne Kwok)


Advisory boards such as the White House Initiative on AAPIs advise federal agencies and the President on the pressing issues of Asian Americans from the grassroots -- having representation and access is one way to influence change. 


After the event, I emailed panelists and asked, why is voting so important? Daphne Kwok offered her take:


Voting is a right and a privilege. ALL citizens of the United States have been given the right to vote. At the same time, it is a privilege to vote because in so many other countries around the world people don't have the right to participate in a democracies.  We must be especially grateful to all the men and women who fought for "our" right to vote -- in particular the African American heroes who participated and gave their lives so that we have the right and privilege of voting today.  That is why we, as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, cannot be complacent about casting our vote. If you don't vote, you have no right to complain about policies that impact you negatively.


Asian American voters in this particular election season have been courted by candidates and covered by the media more than at any other time. As one of the fastest growing populations in the U.S., the demographic shifts are a factor in key races in battleground states such as Nevada, Ohio, Virginia and Florida, where past victories depended slim margins.  Nevada experienced a 116% increase in the Asian American according to the 2010 Census. As another example, Obama won Florida in 2008 by 2.5%, and Florida had a 3% AAPI population. Also significant is the estimate that 32% of Asian Americans voters remain undecided, according to the 2012 National Asian American Survey.


The panel ended with the overall sense that Asian Americans are being paid attention to by politicians more than ever before, and that Asian American voters are increasingly becoming significant factors in races at the local, state, Congressional and Presidential level. Several panelists expressed a final message: Go out and vote!



— ALICE WONG, disabled /Asian American/ news junkie/ night owl/ advocate /researcher.

     Twitter: @SFdirewolf


Full disclosure: Alice is a board member of APIDC, the organization headed by panelist Daphne Kwok.




Resources referenced:


Public Opinion of a Growing Electorate: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders 2012. Karthick Ramakrishnan and Taeku Lee, National Asian-American Survey.


Asian-American Survey:  Findings from a Survey of 700 Asian-American Voters nationwide plus 100 each in FL, NV, VA, and IL.

Celinda Lake, David Mermin, and Shilpa Grover, Lake Research Partners.


Voting Rights Publications & Materials

Asian American Justice Center


Photos of panelists courtesy of Alice Wong