MONTEREY PARK — The number of Chinese-Americans registered to vote in Monterey Park has increased by nearly 1,250 in four years, but the Democratic Party has netted just seven new members.
Republican registration among Chinese increased by 572 during the same period, while 663 did not list a party affiliation. Only 7% of all voters in the county list themselves as nonpartisan, but 30% of the city's Chinese voters are in that category.
These are a few of the facts gleaned from new data just released by the Asian Pacific American Voter Registration Project, which is headquartered in Monterey Park and promotes Asian political participation.
Registering new voters and getting them to the polls is the nonpartisan project's primary mission, but it also promotes political research.
Mary Chu, project organizer, said comparatively little is known about Asian voters. It is not clear, for example, whether those who register as nonpartisan are conservative or liberal. So little research has been done on Asian voting patterns, Chu said, that it is not even clear whether Asians are a politically cohesive group.
As its first research effort, the project, in cooperation with the Southwest Voter Research Institute of San Antonio, conducted an exit poll at the Monterey Park municipal election in April. The project also analyzed surnames of all registered voters to determine party affiliation of each ethnic group.
Researchers polled 433 Chinese, 335 whites, 267 Japanese, 259 Latinos and 60 members of other Asian-Pacific ethnic groups as they left polling places. They interviewed 1,354 of the 8,285 people who voted. The exit poll provided an ethnic breakdown of the votes for each council candidate and showed how voters made their decisions.
The poll showed that voters of all ethnic groups were most influenced by personal contact with candidates and by campaign literature. English-language newspapers were a distant third as a campaign factor but were more important than the non-English media among all voters, including Chinese.
Don T. Nakanishi, assistant professor of education at UCLA and an adviser to the project, said the most significant finding was that Asian voters will strongly support Asian candidates.
Chinese Backed Chu
According to the exit poll, which researchers said had a margin of error of less than 7%, Judy Chu, the highest vote-getter in the election for two open council seats, received 88% of the Chinese vote and 75% of the Japanese vote while also drawing about one-third of the votes of Latinos and Anglos. Another Asian candidate, Victoria Wu, captured 22% of the Chinese vote but had little appeal among Japanese, Latinos and others. She finished last in the field of eight candidates.
Chu would not have been elected without strong Asian support. But because only one-third of the voters in Monterey Park are Asian, she also needed and got significant support from Anglos and Latinos.
Nakanishi said Chu's success shows that Asians will give solid support to a strong candidate of their own race. At the same time, he said, Wu's failure indicates that Asian voters do not automatically cast their ballots along racial lines.
Another key finding from the exit poll was that while the Democratic Party is strong in Monterey Park among Japanese, Latinos and Anglos, it is growing weaker among Chinese.
City Over 50% Asian
The Asian population in Monterey Park has increased by more than 70% since 1980 and now constitutes more than half the total population of about 62,877. Although the city has a long-established Japanese community, most of the newcomers are Chinese.
In June, 1984, the registration breakdown among Chinese voters in Monterey Park was 43% Democratic, 31% Republican, 25% nonpartisan and less than 1% split among minor parties. The total registration was 22,021. By November, 1987, the figures had shifted to 35% Republican, 33% nonpartisan, 31% Democratic and 1% minor parties. The total registration was 23,353.
Among Chinese participating in the April exit poll, 45% were Republican, 30% nonpartisan, 24% Democratic and 1% affiliated with minor parties.
Mary Chu, the project organizer, said the Republican gains could reflect the growing affluence of Chinese in Monterey Park and the tendency of those with wealth to join the Republican Party. She noted that the exit poll showed that Chinese had higher incomes and were better educated than other racial and ethnic groups in the city.
More Than Local Trend
But, Chu said, the reluctance to affiliate with either party is more than a local trend.
She said at least half the Asians who register to vote at swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens refuse to declare a party affiliation.
Chu said Republican support for free enterprise and a strong national defense and Democratic positions on immigration and civil rights both have special appeal to Asians, but neither party has made a concerted effort to get its message to Asian voters.