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'Desis tend to vote Democratic right now'

Last updated on: May 17, 2012 20:21 IST

'Desis tend to vote Democratic right now'

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

The first-ever poll of Asian-American voters finds support for President Obama, but also room for outreach. Aziz Haniffa reports in this two-part series.

This is the second and final part of the series.

Part I: Desis favour Obama for US President: Poll

Earlier, in a conference call with journalists, Lake said, "Asian Americans have not been contacted by the political parties and that is true even in states where they play a very major role -- Nevada, Virginia, Florida, where they could be really determinative in close elections of who wins the presidential contest. And Asian Americans, because of reapportionment, play a very major role in a number of Congressional races and a number of senate races as well."

Lake added, "In testing, we see the participation of Asian Americans have been increasing, compared to 2004 and 2008, and the participation rate went from 44 per cent to 48 per cent."

Acknowledging that, "Asian Americans tend to vote Democratic right now," she noted, "There are a very, very significant proportion of Asian-American votes up for grabs, and 31 per cent are independent in terms of their party identification. So Asian Americans, while leaning Democratic right now, are definitely significant targets for both parties and shouldn't be taken for granted by either party."

"While television still dominates they way they receive their political information, we see very high Internet use and 40 per cent say the internet and social media is a major news source for them. This is one of the best populations actually -- and cheapest -- to reach online. We also see 32 per cent relying on newspapers and newspapers is a very important source of information, something that we see is really diminishing in other communities. We see 10 per cent saying they rely on friends and family, and this is lower than a lot of other communities, and campaign advertising makes a difference in Asian-American communities," Lake added.

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'Asian Americans are positive, but divided'

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"Asian Americans are positive about the direction of the country both for themselves and for the country overall than the population overall of all American voters, but they are divided," she felt.

"They are more positive, but divided. Even though they rank the direction of the country a net positive, their perceptions of the economy resemble very much voters overall. Democrats have a very strong advantage among Asian American voters on values and fairness, and they also have substantial advantages on health care, education and immigration."

Mee Moua, president, Asian American Justice Center and a former Minnesota state legislator, who also participated in the conference call, said, "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. 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 US Representative Pete Hoekstra aired a very expensive, anti-Asian ad during the Super Bowl this year, attacking his opponent Senator Debbie Stabenow.

The ad featured an Asian-American woman wearing a straw hat and speaking broken English. Following its airing, Asian Americans contributed to Stabenow's campaign in large numbers, outpacing ordinary fundraising levels.

Similarly, former Virginia Senator George Allen infamously derided an Indian-American campaign aide who was working for his opponent Senator Jim Webb several years ago, calling the aide, S S Sidharth, a 'macaca.'

Outrage among Asian Americans propelled Webb's come-from-behind victory in that election; 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.

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'Virginia could make a difference in the outcome'

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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 said, 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 such 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.

"What's really interesting about the polling results for us," she said, "is the fact that our community will vote for candidates who are engaging them on issues, and once we are engaged, we actually do turn out to vote. The fact that almost 60 per cent of our independent voters have not gained the attention of either of the political parties is really an affirmation yet again that we are still a largely ignored community."

Christine Chen, acting executive director, APIAVote, said Asian American and Pacific Islander support in important states such as Florida, Nevada and Virginia could make a difference in the outcome of the presidential elections and that community groups are working hard to mobilise 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," she said.

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'Indian-American presence is quite large'

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"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. Chen noted that this time a third are undecided about who they'll vote.

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 voters surveyed said they speak another language at home and more than a fifth of them said they'd be more likely to vote if they had in-language assistance.

"Asian Americans are on the rise and Indian Americans are providing a lot of the lift," Toby Chaudhuri, board chair, APIAVote, said.

"They're gaining popularity and strength, institutional capacity and political sophistication. They're enjoying an expanded coalition and witnessing an exciting new generation of Indian-American leaders who are transforming America's political debate. 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."

When we pointed out that all of the briefers were of East Asian origin and there were no South Asian Americans represented, they were quick to point out that the Indian-American and South Asian-American presence was quite large.

And that besides Chaudhuri, Indian Americans involved in the project included Shilpa Grover, associate, Lake Research Partners; Mini Timmaraju, board member, APIAVote; Harsha Murthy, board secretary, Asian American Justice Center and member of the AAJC National Advisory Council; and Sona Pancholy, board member, Asian American Justice Center.


Image: US Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney shakes hands with supporters after speaking at his Florida primary night rally in Tampa, Florida
Photographs: Mike Carlson/Reuters

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