The 2010 midterm elections may have a critical impact on Barack Obama’s political future. What role will Asian Americans play in shaping the President Obama’s fate?
Almost twenty years ago, Don Nakanishi suggested that Asian Americans could become an important swing vote in California. More recently, S.B. Woo formed “80-20,” a group trying to get Asian Americans to vote as a bloc to increase their political influence, but the effort has had limited success so far. Do Asian American votes matter?
Some suggest that Asian Americans are too few and too diverse to make up an important voting bloc. Outside of Hawai‘i, where they are thedominant ethnoracial group, Asian Americans are usually less than 10 percent of the population. Even in California, they make up only about 13 percent of the population, and their diversity makes it doubtful that they will be a potent voting bloc even in the Golden State (AsianAmericans do hold considerable power in some local elections).
However, a recent Gallup poll suggests that Asian Americans may still wield political leverage. According to Gallup, Asian American are more likely to label themselves moderate than Americans as a whole (46 to 36percent), and more so than any of the other major ethnoracialgroups. Interestingly, Gallup also reports that no other ethnoracial group except African American is as likely to identify as Democrat as Asian Americans. What can explain these findings?
It’s possible that one part ofthe explanation is religious. The Gallup report finds lower levels of religiosity among Asian Americans, although cultural differences might mean that Gallup’s measure misses some aspects of Asian American religiosity. Even so, the Gallup finding suggests that the increasing influence of Christian religious conservatives within Republican Party may not be as attractive to AsianAmericans.
If this is correct, Asian Americans might still become an important swing vote. While the Republican Party has moved to theright, the endangered species known as “moderate Republicans” might look to Asian Americans as potential supporters. Economically conservative but socially moderate candidates—characteristicof moderate Republicans—might appeal to many Asian American voters, and states with higher numbers of Asian Americans—such as California and New York—are also ones where small bands of moderate Republicans have continued to exist, and sometimes even thrive.
In addition, socially moderate candidates might be able to rally large numbers of Asian Americans in cases where immigration and immigrants are a flashpoint. Although anti-immigration voices are increasingly influential within the Republican Party, notable exceptions remain, including former President George W. Bush, and, until recently, SenatorJohn McCain.
South Carolina Tea Party favorite Nikki Haley seems to fit this description. Although Haley has apparently dropped references to her Sikh background as she has risen to favorite status in the gubernatorial campaign, her campaign has stressed economic conservatism and open government, not the social issuesof the religious right.
While Asian Americans are unlikely to represent a powerful national voting bloc, there is no such thingas a national election in the United States. As every experienced campaign manager knows,the president is elected in fifty different state campaigns, where the key challenge is to assemble enough victories to add to 270 electoral votes. Congressional campaigns are still usually dominated by local concerns, and growing numbers of Asian Americans mean an increasing number of House districts where they might wield influence. According to the 2008 American Community Survey estimates, Asian Americans make up over 30 percent of the population in four congressional districts in California (districts 12, 13, and 15, and probably also district 8).
Savvy candidates would still do well to court Asian American voters in districts where their numbers are growing. Asian Americans are growing at a faster ratethan Latinos (measured by percentage increase). Meanwhile, organizations such as APIAVote are working hard to mobilize more Asian American voters in 2010. “Raging moderates” is probably far too strong a term, but Gallup andother data suggest that Asian Americans may indeed be a force for moderation in American politics.