With the 2014 midterm elections behind us, one demographic has both Republicans and Democrats buzzing. Based on exit polling of the 2014 midterm elections, 50 percent of Asian American support went to the Republicans. This is in stark contrast to 2012, when President Barack Obama and the Democrats won the Asian American vote in a landslide with 73 percent.
This significant swing among Asian American voters should signal to both parties that 20 million Asian Americans cannot be locked in politically and that they could very well be the unknown quotient that tips the scales in future elections.
Asian Americans are the nation’s fastest-growing swing vote, outpacing Hispanic Americans in terms of annual growth. The growing influence of this voting bloc is evidenced in certain gubernatorial races and in many close Senate and House races in 2014 where they tipped the scales, such as Virginia’s 10th Congressional District race.
Even in California – home to almost one-third of all Asian Americans in the nation – where one party appears to have a lock, Republicans focused on a long-term strategy of courting the Asian American vote. In Orange County, the Republican Party expended the time and funding necessary to recruit three Asian American candidates for the California Senate and Assembly races.
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As a result, we now have two new Asian American assemblywomen, Ling-Ling Chang and Young Kim, and one new Asian American state senator, Janet Nguyen. This small effort has changed the dynamics in the California Assembly since the Democrats no longer have a supermajority.
The takeaway from the 2014 elections is that Asian Americans are not committed Democrats. In a poll by the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund, 40 percent of the Asian American electorate still does not identify with either political party. The Asian American constituency is therefore persuadable on key issues affecting them. All that may be required is just a better and deeper understanding of Asian American voters.
The same poll also showed that, although the Asian American electorate is a diverse voting bloc, there are many commonalities. The economy, jobs, education, and health care represent the top four issues among Asian Americans ethnic groups. This includes upward employment mobility, small business development and homeownership, which is the dream of 95 percent of Asian Americans.
However, a majority of Asian Americans, 56 percent, were never contacted by either party about voting or registering to vote for the 2014 elections. This failure, combined with the low turnout of Asian Americans, could be a future opportunity for both political parties to substantially increase their efforts to engage the growing Asian American electorate.
For example, in the 2014 Virginia Senate race, it appears that numerous campaign outreach events held at Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian and Filipino community centers might have tipped the scales for Sen. Mark Warner. In a state where Asian Americans represent 3 percent of total voters, as compared to 12 to 15 percent in California, Warner secured 68 percent of the Asian vote, a margin of support greater than his margin of victory. Warner won with 49 percent of the vote, Republican Ed Gillespie had 48 percent.
If both parties committed more efforts to engage Asian American voters, a little investment could well make the difference in the 2016 presidential election and future elections, even in seemingly one-party states such as California.
Faith Bautista is CEO and president of the National Asian American Coalition, a nonpartisan nonprofit community organization. Alan Thian is president of the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce of North America.