Another Group to Watch: Asian Americans

Hallie D. Martin, Politico, July 30, 2008

Asian-Americans have not always been the most politically active constituency, but that may change this November.

“Historically, they are less focused on politics, but they are an emerging bloc, suddenly in the last few years in both state and national elections,” said Gautam Dutta, the executive director of the Asian-American Action Fund.

Of U.S.-born adults eligible to vote, Asians were 18 percentage points behind non-Asians in voter turnout in the 2006 midterm election. The naturalized Asian community was four percentage points behind non-Asians in voting rates that same year, according to a UCLA report released earlier this month.

But the voter turnout during California’s primary on Feb. 5 suggested a boom in voter participation could be in the making. More than half a million Asian Americans went to the polls in the nation’s largest state, according to Presidentpolls2008.com.

There, Asian-Americans made a difference voting for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama by a 3-1 margin. CNN, using exit poll data, credited Clinton’s victory in California to “an Asian American and Latino voting bloc.”

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“In 2008, we’ll probably see more Asian-Americans at the ballot box because of large numbers,” said Paul Ong, a professor in the Public Relations and Asian-American Studies departments at UCLA. “I’ve noticed my students are much more interested this year.”

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“In local and state elections, (Asian-Americans) are very critical of who wins and loses,” Ong said. “(If they are) concentrated in large numbers that makes a difference, and around D.C. and Virginia they are starting to emerge as a potentially important vote.”

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The Asian American political awakening could trace back to 2006, when fierce debates over immigration raged and talks about anti-immigrant legislation got many of them thinking about politics, Ong said.

“We’ve been ignored for the longest time, and this time noticed a little more,” said Kathleen To, president of 80-20 Political Action Committee. “We only make up about 5 percent of the U.S. population, nobody thought we’d be that important.”

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