|Mitt Romney (left), President Barack Obama (right). Right photo by Pete Souza
Following an IndUS Business Journal political poll of Asian Indians earlier this year, the Asian American Justice Center and APIAVote have recently released a poll of Asian American and Pacific Islanders that similarly found that President Barack Obama is in high favor compared to other candidates for the 2012 Presidential Election.
Released in February the IndUS Business Journal poll found that 80 percent of Asian Indians polled would vote for President Barack Obama, with only 14.7 percent for Romney. The Asian American and Pacific Islanders poll reported that 73 percent of those polled were favorable to President Obama, with 29 percent favorable to Romney.
The poll, which was conducted by Lake Research Partners and surveyed approximately 1,100 Asian American and Pacific Islanders in April, interestingly found that the group is largely untapped by presidential candidates and their parties even though they are expected to vote in record numbers this fall.
The poll suggested that close elections in important states like Florida, Nevada and Virginia could go to the candidates who best engage Asian American and Pacific Islanders, a demographic with increasing political clout.
"Presidential candidates and political parties ignore Asian American voters at their own peril," stated pollster Celinda Lake. "While Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders seem to prefer Democratic candidates, many don't really know the differences between Democrats and Republicans, because they haven't been engaged by either party. There's a real opportunity there to define the debate."
Asian American and Pacific Islanders identified overwhelmingly as Democrats in the poll — more than three times more than Republican — but less than a third were contacted by the Democratic Party in the last two years, while 37 percent of Republicans said they heard a great deal from their party over the same period. Independents barely heard from either party even though they are usually prime targets.
The poll's most dramatic findings were around Asian American and Pacific Islanders' views about the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Nearly three in 10 said they have no opinion of Mitt Romney, leaving a lot of room to define him in this group. Although Asian Americans overwhelmingly like President Obama, with nearly three-quarters viewing him favorably, they feel much less so when it comes to his job performance. On the issues, Asian Americans aren't happy with the economic situation, but believe the country is moving in the right direction.
An overwhelming majority of Asian Americans surveyed — nearly five out of six — said they will vote this November and half of them are more enthusiastic than ever to vote, a trend that has continued from the last few presidential elections, according to Lake.
"Taking these voters for granted in the short-run will have a big impact in the long-run because they're on a fast rise and they're very loyal," stated Mee Moua, president of the Asian American Justice Center and a former state legislator. "They're looking for leaders who will stand up for them and address their issues. You can ask Pete Hoekstra and George Allen all about that."
Michigan senate candidate and former Rep. Pete Hoekstra aired a very expensive, anti-Asian ad during the Super Bowl this year, attacking his opponent Sen. Debbie Stabenow. The ad featured an Asian American woman wearing a straw hat and speaking broken English. Following its airing, Asian Americans contributed to Sen. Stabenow's campaign in large numbers, outpacing ordinary fund-raising levels. Similarly, former Virginia Sen. George Allen infamously derided an Indian American campaign aide who was working for his opponent Sen. Jim Webb several years ago. Outrage among Asian Americans propelled Sen. Webb's come-from-behind victory in that election, where he won by only 7,231 votes.
Moua noted that political attacks like those reveal the parties' isolation from Asian American and Pacific Islander groups and could spell trouble for candidates with these voters. Asian Americans surveyed said they would turn strongly against a candidate who expresses anti-Asian views, even if they agree on other issues. The number was more split if a candidate expressed only an anti-immigrant view that isn't clearly anti-Asian.
Most importantly, Moua added, if candidates address the community's issues, there's a lasting benefit because Asian American and Pacific Islander voters are younger than the general population and have roots spread across the country. Citing their stances on value and fairness, Moua said these voters are looking for candidates who will stand up for the middle class and treat all Americans fairly, and that the most important issues to them are the economy, health care, education and immigration.
APIAVote acting executive director Christine Chen said Asian American and Pacific Islander support in important states like Florida, Nevada and Virginia could make a difference in the outcome of the presidential elections and that community groups are working hard to mobilize them.
"Every vote counts, especially in a tight election. If AAPIs vote at the same level they did last time, it could mean increasing margins for the party they prefer — 47,000 more votes in Virginia than last election, 33,000 more in Florida and 9,000 more in Nevada," stated Chen. "Political leaders must engage this rapidly growing voting bloc in the conversation. We're working with dozens of community based groups to get AAPIs involved in the process, but locally we've barely been contacted by either party."
Most Asian American and Pacific Islanders said they voted last time because they believed the country needed a change in direction and it was their civic duty or they liked a particular candidate, but Chen noted that a third are undecided about who they'll vote for this year pointing to the poll. A generic ballot at the congressional level also shows a lot of room for persuasion.
Chen also pointed to language assistance as an avenue to break barriers and increase participation this year. Three quarters of the Asian American and Pacific Islander voters surveyed said they speak another language at home and more than one-fifth of them said they'd be more likely to vote if they had in-language assistance. They tend to speak another language at home while most were born outside the country, immigrating to America as adults, according to the poll. Two-thirds of those who were born in the United States have parents born outside the country.
"Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are on the rise. They're gaining popularity and strength, institutional capacity and political sophistication. They're enjoying an expanded coalition and witnessing an exciting new generation of leaders who are transforming America's political debate, putting forward new priorities to fix our troubled economy," stated Toby Chaudhuri, board chair of APIAVote. "There's an unprecedented amount of political activity happening within the community and outside the formal campaigns. Activists are building a movement to force changes that might otherwise never take place."