A logo seen on the ceiling of the Time Warner Cable Arena ahead of the 2012… (Michael Reynolds / EPA )
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — They may be the fastest-growing and best-educated racial group, boasting the highest average income in the country, but when it comes to politics, Asian Americans have historically spent little time in the political spotlight of either the Democrats or Republicans.
But on Monday, a group of leaders at the Asian American and Pacific Islander caucus meeting at the Democratic National Convention said they see signs of that changing, with some touting the group’s importance in an election year when the margin of victory could be sliver-thin.
“Our emerging theme is the margin of victory,” Bel Leong-Hong, the DNC Asian American and Pacific Islander caucus chair told the assembled crowd at the Charlotte Convention Center, adding that Asian Americans are “becoming increasingly important to both parties at the ballot box.”
Asian American leaders celebrated the increasing number of elected officials and increasing participation in the political system. Four years ago, about 100 Asian American delegates showed up at the DNC in Denver. This year, the number has climbed to more than 300, organizers said. Though wealthy Asian Americans have been tapped by Republicans and Democrats as donors, the broader group has gotten little of the attention other groups have, including the larger Latino and black communities.
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In more recent years, the Democrats have made inroads with the Asian American and Pacific Islander group, and according to polls, a majority favor Democrats. A Pew poll earlier this year showed that more than 50% of Asian American registered voters are Democrats and about 30% are Republicans. A survey by Pew found that in 2008, more than 60% of Asian Americans cast ballots for BarackObama, compared with about 35% for John McCain.
But various polls also suggest that with a large number of registered Asian Americans not identifying with either major party, the group leaves plenty of untapped potential for either the Democratic or Republican parties.
At the morning caucus meeting of loyal Democrats, organizers touted what they called President Obama’s “record” number of appointment of Asian Americans to government positions — including doubling the number of Asian Americans serving as judges on federal benches to 18 and appointing three to his Cabinet, including Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.
Asian Americans make up about 6%, or 18.2 million, of the U.S. population, according to the latest Census Bureau figures. More than 60% were born abroad, with more than half of those becoming naturalized citizens eligible to vote. The number of newly arrived Asian immigrants has outpaced Latinos every year since 2009, according to a Pew analysis of census data.
California Rep. Mike Honda (D-Campbell) said some of the major growth has occurred in battleground states such as Nevada and Virginia.
“Before politicians looked at the small population of Asian Americans [in some states] and said, ‘This is not large enough for us to pay attention.’ So they became marginalized,” Honda said. “Now we say that marginalized population is now the margin of victory.”
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California State Controller John Chiang said he has seen increased efforts to win the Asian American vote, including in recent gubernatorial elections.
“It’s obviously a very large community, and incredibly diverse,” Chiang said. “And so the message is to understand the cultural differences, the background, something both parties need to do.”
Sitting in the audience, Albert Lin, a 39-year-old corporate litigation attorney and delegate from Ohio, said: “Over the years I’ve seen more focus and attention placed on the Asian-American community, and that’s not just happening in California and New York, but all over the country.”
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