The much ballyhooed analysis post-2012 election mainly focused on the influence of the Latino electorate, the GOP’s inability to appeal to minority voters, and President Obama’s historically poor showing amongst white voters. But not enough was written about an emerging force in U.S. politics: the Asian-American vote.
The Asian American electorate is expected to double by 2040. Armed with a historic high of 13 Asian American members of the 113th Congress and the designation of fastest growing immigrant and racial group in the U.S., Asian Americans are poised to make large waves again in American politics, perhaps even as soon as 2014.
Obama achieved historic levels of Asian American support in his re-election bid, garnering 73% support — the highest ever for a single candidate, as compared to 63% in 2008. Asian Americans continue to grow as an electorate, totaling 4.8% of the national population, 3% of the vote in the past election, and growing in size 128% between 1996 and 2008.
However, in the U.S., the racial category “Asian” is a creation of white people, not of Asians. Activists coined the ineffectual term “Asian American” in the 1960s to replace the label “oriental” — a negative reminder of the past. The term probably won’t be going away any time soon, so it’s important for the general public to understand its complexities and the disservice it does to Asian ethnicities. The commonly cited 2013 Pew Research Center report titled “The Rise of Asian Americans” evokes even more mixed feelings among the community commonly and unfortunately deemed the “model minority”.
Scot Nakagawa, wrote, “The racial category Asian lumps together widely diverse groups with no common language, phenotype, or culture who come to the U.S. under vastly different circumstances. How, exactly, do you arrive at a 'distinctive whole' from which you can deduce an average experience of, say, Japanese Americans and Laotian Americans? The first wave of Japanese immigrants to the U.S. came through Hawaii in the 1800s as contract laborers lured by lies about grand opportunity and riches. The vast majority of Laotian immigrants on the other hand, came to the U.S. since 1973 as refugees of war. How do you mash together Laotian war refugees and Japanese business investors and come up with an average or mean experience?”
Furthermore, what is most commonly referred to by the term “Asian” is those of Far East Asian decent — namely, persons of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese heritage. In fact, the sum of Southeast Asian populations of Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Hmong, and Laotian largely exceed the four million Chinese living in the U.S.
However, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has reluctantly accepted this term for now in order to create more solidarity and political clout.
So how will this rising community put their steadily gathered influence to good use in 2014 and 2016?
According to the Pew Research on Asian American Social Trends, Asian Americans have been shown to hold more liberal views on social issues and have a stronger preference for activist government (52% - 39%). 18.2 million Asian Americans from the East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent are currently living in the U.S., while 36% of new immigrants are coming from Asia. Asian Americans hold racial strongholds lining the west coast (naturally, with its proximity to Asia).
Total U.S. Asian-American Population
Many of these areas are already solidly Democratic, paralleled with recent trends of Asian Americans tilting liberal (31% liberal, 24% conservative, 37% moderate) and overwhelmingly identifying as Democrats by a margin of 2:1 (50% - 28%).
Redrawn districts have large in part nullified the influence of Asian Americans in local urban districts (they are already Democratic); they are still poised to be players in statewide elections. Key swing states like Nevada and Arizona, two states that have doubled its Asian populations, as well as New Jersey, which seats a Republican governor in an otherwise deep blue state, will be interesting to watch.
Given the SCOTUS rulings on Affirmative Action and the case of Fisher v. The University of Texas, Asians will continue to matter when it comes to potential statewide voter referendums on affirmative action programs in public settings, as well as choosing a president who could have the rare chance to reshape the Supreme Court.
While nowhere near a solely Asian American issue, it is one of great importance for the community. While it is true more than 40% of Asian Americans adults have at least a college degree – the highest of all major racial groups; 10% more than the total population – and the student debt to go with it, it’s a little less impressive than at first glance. For example, only 16% of Vietnamese Americans have attained a college degree, while the rates for Cambodians, Laotians and Khmer hover around 5%.
This big ticket issue will loom large in the midterm elections. The immigration reform act waiting to be brought to the House floor since July, seeks to create pathways for legal immigration, funnel through backlogs of applications, but also threatens to remove family reunification policies and allocations for siblings of U.S. citizens. In 2012, 55% of Asian immigrants arrived through family visa programs that are outside of the quotas put on visa acceptances. There are currently 1.8 million Asian family-based visa applicants waiting to reunite with their families, and 1.3 million unauthorized immigrants from Asia (12% of all unauthorized immigrants)