A voter receives instructions before casting her ballot at a polling station… (Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty…)
Much has been made of the Latino vote and its crucial role in boosting President Obama to victory, but it was Asian Americans who made the most dramatic shift in support for the president Tuesday.
Exit polls show that 73% of Asian Americans backed Obama, an 11-point increase since 2008. Asian Americans came out in such force for Obama that they topped Latinos as his second-most supportive ethnic group, behind African Americans.
Latinos, who made up 10% of the electorate, went 67% for Obama, 5 points higher than in 2008.
While Asians accounted for just 3% of the electorate – up from 2% in 2008 – their overwhelming support made them a key component of the Obama coalition, especially in swing states like Virginia, Florida and Colorado.
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And their numbers are increasing rapidly. They were the fastest-growing ethnic group from 2000 to 2010.
“We are clearly an undeniable and unshakable political power,” said Rep. Michael M. Honda, a California Democrat and chairman emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. "As the fastest-growing ethnic community in the country, we are the margin of victory."
An election eve poll by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development confirmed what was seen in exit polls: 72% of Asian Americans backed Obama and 73% supported Democrats in congressional races. One-fifth were first-time voters.
Honda,, of San Jose, whose California district is now the first in the continental United States to contain an Asian American majority, said Asian Americans have become increasingly aware of their ability to influence elections.
“When people start to understand their worth, they participate,” he said.
But the poll of Asian Americans suggests that there is more work to be done. More than half – 51% – said that they were never contacted by a campaign, political party or community group to register to vote. Of those who were contacted, 55% said they were approached by Democrats and 38% by Republicans.
Asian American candidates also made historic gains this year in the House and Senate.
Democratic Rep. Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii became the first Asian American woman, the first Asian immigrant and the first Buddhist to be elected to the Senate.
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Tulsi Gabbard, also of Hawaii, became the first Hindu elected to the House. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois will be the first Thai American woman in the House. And Mark Takano of California is the first openly gay person of color elected to the House.
Thirteen Asian Americans were elected or reelected on Tuesday, with a potential 14th, Ami Bera, holding a slim lead over Rep. Dan Lungren in a northern California district.
“Count us in as players,” Honda said. “Because all the candidates that have won this go-around, except for in Hawaii, these folks are representing districts that are not majority Asian American.”