Thursday, January 24, 2008

Where is the Asian American Voice?

Recent highlights of demographics in early presidential primary states seem to ignore the Asian Pacific American (APA) votes. Discussions in mainstream media focus on the importance of African American, Hispanic, women, and Catholic votes, and make no mention of Asian Americans. Asian Americans often appeared to be an afterthought when raised by leading presidential candidates.

Given the political polarization, one would think APAs would be kingmakers in the 2008 election. For example, noted that APAs constituted 6.1% of the electorate in Nevada, a swing state that Bush won by 2.5% in 2004. In 2006, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) narrowly beat Sen. George Allen by some 7,000 votes largely because he solidly carried the 160,000 potential APA votes in Virginia. Asian Americans make up about 4-6% of the population and polls after polls show both parties running neck in neck with only a few percentage separating them. Why is the APA voting bloc still being ignored? How can we raise our profile as a community so that APA votes matter and are courted by the candidates?

First comes the why and I think there are several factors. 1) Perception: APAs are perceived as a fractured community with no unifying voice to forcefully deliver their message. 2) Political Apathy: Although APAs make up 4-6% of the population, the number of actual registered voters are minuscule, making them a less potent force in swing states. 3) Non-monolithic Voters: 2004 presidential exit polls showed APA votes were almost evenly split in key states between Bush and Kerry, making them an undependable voting bloc by either party.

The 2008 election cycle offers the APA community the opportunity to change the dynamics. It is inherent in the Asian culture to stay neutral to promote harmony and not take risks, fearful of betting on the losing party. We cannot afford to be timid anymore. This is the time when APAs must take a political stand publically and fight for candidates and party that share their issues, values and concerns. Second, APAs must pull their resources together and demonstrate that they can deliver for their candidates and party. Finally, first generation and older APAs who are citizens must exercise their rights and vote to ensure the voice of future APA generations is heard.

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