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New Report: “Influence of Asian American Voters Increasing in State, U.S. Elections”

By July 10, 2008 No Comments

For Immediate Use

July 3, 2008

 

INFLUENCE OF ASIAN AMERICAN VOTERS INCREASING IN STATE, U.S.

ELECTIONS

Letisia Marquez, lmarquez@support.ucla.edu, 310-206-3986

The growing electoral clout of Asian Americans could play an important role in the upcoming presidential election, but still more can be done to increase voter registration and citizenship rates among this population, UCLA researchers say in newly issued report.

“Super Tuesday of the 2008 presidential primary was a milestone in the emergence of Asian Americans as a factor in American politics,” said report co-author Paul Ong, a UCLA professor of urban planning and Asian American studies. “National news outlets discussed and analyzed California’s Asian American voters, who helped Senator Hillary Clinton win the Democratic vote.”

“That momentum has to continue as we move into the heat of the presidential election season, and the most crucial way to do that is by increasing the number of Asian American voters,” he said.

“Awakening the New ‘Sleeping Giant’? Asian American Political Engagement,” prepared by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, the University of California Asian American and Pacific Islander Policy Multi-Campus Research Program, and Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, charts Asian American electoral trends in the context of population growth, demographics and immigration status and highlights the challenges of translating Asian Americans’ growing numbers into strength at the polls.

According to the report, which is based on 2006 U.S. census figures, Asian Americans make up nearly 5 percent of the U.S. population, with the highest percentages in Hawaii (56.4), California (13.4) and New Jersey (7.9). Seven additional states have Asian American populations of 5 percent or greater.

The report also notes that the Asian American population is primarily an immigrant one — roughly 61 percent of Asian Americans are non-native born. Yet the Asian American population is diverse enough that while immigrants constitute a small minority of the population in Hawaii, they make up 75 percent of the Asian American population in California.

“This difference can influence the political issues that Asian Americans are most concerned about, because Asian immigrants and U.S.-born citizens have different concerns,” said Ong, who noted that immigrants may be more concerned with immigration issues and educational opportunities for students with limited English-language skills than native-born Asian Americans.

Nationally, a majority of Asian immigrants — more than 57 percent — have acquired citizenship, and the rate of naturalization continues to increase each year, the report notes. However, there is still a substantial minority who are not citizens, and naturalization rates tend to be lower outside the West Coast, so there is still room for improvement. Additionally, some of those who do become citizens report difficulty in registering to vote, either because they do not know how or because of language problems, the report says.

Despite these barriers, said Gautam Dutta, executive director of the Asian American Action Fund, the UCLA analysis signals that Asian Americans can play a critical role in the 2008 presidential election, as they have in state contests.

In addition to helping Hillary Clinton in California, where 71 percent of Asian American voters, who represent an estimated 12 percent of the state’s electorate, cast ballots for the former first lady, Asian Americans have played a pivotal role in other nationally significant contests.

In 2006, for instance, 76 percent of Virginia’s Asian American and Pacific Islander voters went for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jim Webb, Dutta said. Webb’s win helped tip the balance in the Senate in favor of the Democrats.

“Without their votes, Senator Webb would not have pulled off his razor-thin, upset victory over former Senator George Allen, and the Democrats would not have retaken the United States Senate,” said Dutta, who represents a group that works to increase the number of Asian American elected officials. “Similarly, the Democratic presidential nominee cannot win the major battleground states without the Asian American vote.”

Alice Mong, executive director of Committee of 100, an influential Chinese American nonprofit organization, said the report reveals the impact Asian Americans can have on Election Day and how their electoral power has global implications.

“Although Asian Americans are only 5 percent of the population in the U.S., Asian Americans have links to more than 60 percent of the world’s population through our ethnicity, culture and roots,” Mong said. “It is vital that we play our role and exercise our civic duty as Americans to become informed voters.”

The report — the first update to an in-depth 2006 UCLA study of California’s Asian American population — is available at: http://www.aasc.ucla.edu/archives/SleepingGiantBrief_070208.pdf