Editor’s Note: Anthony Chen is our 2016 Mike Honda Writing Fellow. Anthony is currently a Sophomore at Harvard University studying Statistics and Government. A second-generation immigrant and first-generation American, Anthony has been intrigued with the political process since a young age. This interest has developed into experience interning for Representative Mike Honda on Capitol Hill and involvement with the International Relations Council and a mentoring program on campus. Outside of writing for the Asian American Action Fund, Anthony enjoys playing rugby and making GoPro videos in his free time.
Asian Americans are the fasting growing racial group in the United States, increasing at a rate four times that of the total American population. But while the APA eligible electorate grows, the actual voting population lags significantly behind. In fact, Asian Americans had the lowest voter turnout rates among all racial groups at 46.9%, and the numbers for Asian American millennials like myself are even worse with only 37.3% voter turnout. Asian Americans are one of the most educated populations in the U.S, but after adjusting for education and income, the gap in voter turnout rate between Asian Americans and whites grows even more. There is hope, however; the number of Asian American registered voters is predicted to be over 12 million by 2040, more than doubling the 5.9 million in 2015.
It seems that even in a presidential election cycle as chaotic as this one, Asian Americans are almost unwilling participants. One of the most dominant and contentious issues for 2016 has been immigration reform, but as the second largest demographic affected by immigration changes, Asian Americans have been curiously left out of the debate. Only after comments like Jeb Bush’s on “anchor babies” or Donald Trump’s plans to ban all Muslims from entering the country that echoed Japanese internship camps are the views and concerns of Asian Americans recognized in the nationwide immigration discussion.
So what are the causes for the lack of Asian American political engagement? Surveys have shown that Asian Americans were the most likely racial group to choose “too busy, conflicting work or school schedule” as the reason why they didn’t vote; clearly voting is not a priority. This could be explained in part by the fact 61% of Asian eligible voters are foreign born, Asian Americans have recently replaced Hispanics as the largest group of new immigrants, so there may be a natural disconnect with the U.S. political process. The Asian American population is also heavily concentrated in certain districts and areas that are not likely to be battleground states, making the effort and time it takes to vote seem less necessary. 46% of the Asian population in the United States live in the West, most notably California, and almost three-fourths of the entire Asian American population live just in ten states.
But even in non-battleground states, Asian Americans have a unique role especially in primary elections. As seen Monday night after the Iowa caucuses, there was a virtual tie between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. As noted by AAPI Data, the small 1% of total votes held by Asian Americans could have made a significant difference. And in states with large Asian American populations, the increase in actual APA voters has created a new generation of Asian American politicians. The ongoing California Congressional races of Rep. Mike Honda in the 15th district, Rep. Ami Bera in the 16th district, and Rep. Mark Takano in the 41st district all draw from huge Asian American voter turnout rates. These three representatives come from backgrounds in all levels of education serving as teachers and even superintendents, bringing a different perspective to Capitol Hill.
The increasing Asian American population moving to Southern states also serve as important swing votes, where their primarily democratic views have huge impacts in local level races. Kumar Barve, running to represent Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, is seeking support to be the first Asian American elected to Congress from Maryland, after he already broke ground as the first Indian American to win a state legislative seat. But as he’s said in an interview with AAAF, this won’t be possible with the involvement of young people. So let’s get out there, get engaged, and most importantly vote!