by katherine wang and sophia ng
Amidst all this talk of the upcoming election on November 6, the spotlight hasn’t exactly been on Asian American voters. Even though the Asian American community is still in the process of being seen as a civically engaged and active demographic, it has the great potential to be heard. One in six Asian Americans today live in a swing state, with Asian Americans making up 9% of the population in Nevada and almost 7% of that in Virginia. While those numbers may not seem impressive at first glance, keep in mind that Obama is currently leading by only 1% in Nevada while Romney leads by the same percentage in Virginia as of the latest polls – differences so small that they are quite literally still within the margin of error. Add the fact that over 30% of Asian Americans remain undecided in this race, three to four times higher than the national average of undecided voters, and it is clear the undecided Asian American voter has the potential to be a powerful game changer. Asian Americans are also the fastest growing minority in the United States (at an astonishing rate of 46% per year) and have a higher tendency than other groups to vote based on individual issues, rather than hard party lines.
Asian Americans remain a group largely ignored in this presidential race – and in general. A survey done this May shows that only 23% of Asian Americans have been contacted by the Democratic Party in the past two years and only 17% by the Republican Party – low numbers especially for a group with such high numbers of undecided voters. Furthermore, Asian American underrepresentation in both parties is also appalling. Asian Americans consist of about 6% of the United States population. One would expect that the House of Representatives would reasonably reflect America’s demographics with about 26 representatives out of a total of 435. The reality? Only seven API Representatives. It doesn’t take much math to see the problem.
So, why are we so underrepresented and ignored? Sure, it may be partially because the Asian American voting bloc is not a very unified one due to its diversity, as evidenced by varying levels of support for each candidate (Indian Americans overwhelmingly support Obama, whileFilipino Americans are slightly more in favor of Romney). But, the real problem is something you probably have already noticed and is largely our own fault. It’s simple, really. Most Asian Americans just don’t really vote. In fact, only 47% of Asian Americans turned out to vote in the 2008 presidential election, the lowest among all ethnic groups – and Asian American voter turnout has consistently been the lowest for decades. If we aren’t going to vote anyway, our votes don’t matter.
According to the Asian American Survey conducted in April 2012 by the Lake Research Partners, APIA Vote, the Asian American Justice Center, and the Asian American Institute, the main reasons for not voting in 2008 were: ineligibility (36%), out of country/state (13%), no time (10%), didn’t know enough about candidates (7%), and didn’t like candidates (6%). However, it’s important to note that the ineligible voters who made up 36% weren’t even counted when calculating the Asian American voter turnout. So, yes, only 47% of eligible Asian American voters voted in 2008. For a community in which a third isn’t even currently eligible to vote and make up less than 10% of the overall population, those numbers are extremely low. If we even hope to make our voices heard, this is not the way to do it.
It really comes down to this. Do you care about how your tax dollars are spent? Do you want issues such as health resources and immigration to be reflective of the demands of the Asian American community? If so, you have to vote. In the end, civic participation is essential to getting the representation we need – and deserve. And if that is not enough to get you out to the polls on November 6, perhaps Jon Stewart’s Convocation Address will tie up loose ends—“Many people throughout history have fought for your right to do so. They’ve ‘rocked’ the vote, even accepted the difficult choice of ‘Vote Or Die.’ Here’s a hint: pick the first one.”
Even more so, with California’s implementation of online voter registration and absentee ballots, inconvenience is no longer an excuse. We cannot complain about the lack of representation or social change if we don’t take it upon ourselves to start making into reality what we want as a community.