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Why Candidates Must Pay Attention to Asians

Nguoi Viet, New America Media, John Skata

 LOS ANGELES—A vote registered in Westminster, Alhambra, Torrance ― or any number of other Asian-American enclaves in Southern California or elsewhere in the country ― has the potential to decide the next statewide election, if politicians take the time to pay attention to these voters.

The potential, and underlying hurdles, of mobilizing Asian-American voters was discussed during an event hosted by the Center for the Asian Americans United for Self Empowerment.

Despite being the third-largest ethnic group in California, Asian Americans are an under-used entity in California politics, a potent subset of swing voters who are willing to vote Republican or Democrat, political professionals said. A lack of understanding of Asian American voters has worked negatively against them in the past, causing them to be ignored at times in the media coverage and election messaging.

“When I go into (an election strategy meeting), I’ll see a Hispanic consultant, a black consultant, and an Asian American intern,” said Ronald Wong, president of Imprenta Communications Group, a campaign, public relations and ethnic marketing firm based in San Marino, Calif.

Asian Americans are disproportionately represented on the political scene, too.

Up until 2000, there were only two Asian-American Assembly members in California, Wong said. There are currently no Asian Americans on the 15-person Los Angeles City Council.

“They are heavily underrepresented in state government and local principality, something to be very concerned about,” said Jane Junn, the research director of the USC/Los Angeles Times poll during the 2010 elections.

A 2010 poll overseen by Junn showed Asian Americans identified themselves as 52 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican, and 14 percent independent. She said that while newly immigrated Vietnamese lean heavily Republican – only 14 percent said they would vote for Barack Obama in 2008 — their children do not readily identify in either category.

In the recently concluded elections for California governor and senator, white voters sided with Republicans, Junn said. What allowed Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Barbara Boxer to win the election was the minority vote, which overwhelming sided with the Democrats.

The historically Democrat-leaning Hispanic vote would be difficult to woo for Republicans, but Asian Americans are up for grabs, she said.

“That is where you want to be – where you’re not swayed either way,” Junn said

Wong, who has advised hundreds of political campaigns in the past, said, “If you spend the dollars, they will vote for you.”

The potential gains are often times overlooked by politicians because of language barriers, the cultural diversity of the Asian American community, and the lack of available data, the panelists said.

So even though the Asian American population is a million potential voters more than the African American vote in California, political campaigns will overlook Asian Americans because political strategists understand black voting behavior better, panelists said.
The Asian American community’s views also are ignored because data on voting habits can be difficult to come by.

Wong said the two most important election measures for Asian Americans ― Proposition 187, which would have restricted illegal immigrant rights, and Proposition 209, which would have prohibited race consideration when applying to a public institution ― did not distinguish voting data between white and Asian American voters.

“Without data, you can’t do anything, you can’t study…,” Wong said. “It’s earthshattering.”

Close to 70 percent of Asian Americans also are foreign born, Junn said. Hiring pollsters who speak the target population’s language can be expensive.

Frank Stoltze, an award-winning political reporter for KPCC, said that covering the Asian American community’s views during an election can be difficult because of the lack of available aggregated information on the communities. With so many different communities, time-stretched reporters will look for easier to report stories, he said.

“It’s my fault as a political reporter, but there has not been a lot of two-way conversation,” Stoltze said.

During the discussion, Junn also said Asian Americans are more likely to view water pollution and environment degradation as important issues than white voters. She also said that Asian voters are more likely to vote for another Asian voter.

“The thing to do is get the immigrant population because once you get them, you get their children too,” Junn said.



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