Study: Asian American voters ignored in political space

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) held a press conference following Senate passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and the NO HATE ACT at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Apr. 22, 2021. Photo from Senate Democrats via Flickr creative Commons

By Lia Reichman, AsAmNews Intern

A recent poll from Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote highlights important issues among Asian American voters and where their political views stand.

The survey conducted during June 2022, found that regardless of political affiliation only about half of the 1,601 respondents said they had “been contacted by either of the major parties.”

In the past year, 52 percent said they had not been contacted by the Democratic Party and 60 percent had not heard from the Republican Party.

Despite this lack of voter engagement, a majority of the respondents said they still planned to vote in the upcoming November elections, with 33 percent saying they are “more enthusiastic” in comparison to previous elections.  

“There isn’t as much awareness, yet about the rising political influence of our community, too. I mean, we are still a smaller population relative to African American, Latinos, etcetera, but that’s not an excuse. They still need to be paying attention to us,” said Marita Etcubañez, senior director of strategic initiatives for Asian American Advancing Justice (AAJC).

As a nonpartisan organization, APIA Vote is focused on increasing political engagement within the AAPI community. They’ve released a biannual survey in collaboration with AAJC and AAPI Data since 2012 outlining where Asian American voters stand.

“I think, unfortunately, people are often daunted by the diversity of our community, because you can’t just run ads in one language and reach all of us. So I acknowledge that there are challenges in effectively reaching our community. But that’s not to say that it shouldn’t be done or that it’s not worth their while,” Etcubañez later said. “There have been some really interesting campaigns that have been run by elected officials that, you know, recruit a team and are able to do outreach in multiple Asian languages. And I think that’s really where, people who are seeking elected office, those are the models they need to look at and follow.”

Asian American Voter Survey graphic

Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. Between 2000 and 2019, the Asian American population grew 81% to 18.9 million people. They have also been more politically engaged with the largest increase in turnout rates across all racial groups between 2016 to 2020. Of those who were both citizens and of legal voting age, a 10 percent increase, from 49% to 59% was recorded. 

For years, organizations like AAJC have done work to help Asian American voters increase their voting power. Etcubañez noted that AAJC utilizes the fact they have lawyers on staff and have a focus on policy advocacy to help protect elections. 

“Our approach to voting is really focused on election protection, we want to make sure that people have the information they need, so that they feel that they can vote, and that when people go to the polls, that they’re able to vote, ideally, without any problems, and that their votes are properly counted,” Etcubañez said. “Because we know there are efforts to suppress the vote, and in particular, the minority vote across the country.”

Every election cycle they run an election protection hotline allowing people to ask questions they may have from ‘am I registered to vote?’ to ‘where is my polling station?’.

“The hotline, in addition to answering people’s questions, the main reason that we run it is so that if people run into problems casting their vote, we can step in and try to intervene because when people have problems, the last thing we want them to do is to think like, ‘oh, this is too hard, oh, this is too much trouble’ and then leave,” Etcubañez said. “We want to make sure that the people who make the effort to vote are actually able to vote and that their votes are accepted.”

In conjunction with their focus on policy advocacy, AAJC works with a network of 250 community-based organizations and holds a youth leadership summit to help influence policy making and represent the needs of the AAPI community.

Asian American Voter Survey Graphic

One of the biggest issues facing Asian Americans is the increase in anti-Asian hate. Data published by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism revealed that anti-Asian hate crime increased by 339% in 2021. The APIA Voter survey also found that 73% of respondents worried about experiencing hate crimes or discrimination at least “sometimes” and 24% said “very often”.

“I think an important part is for elected officials to understand that our community needs resources, and they need to direct funding to the sorts of solutions that the community feels that it needs,” Etcubañez said. “Funding organizations that directly serve Asian Americans and even beyond hate crimes, funding efforts to support the community in ways that help us to thrive and feel safe are really important.”

Although there has been some positive legislation, including the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, in recent years Asian Americans are still severely underrepresented in politics.

A report from the Reflective Democracy Campaign showed that only 0.9 percent of all elected officials are Asian American.

Eric Ching campaign photo

Eric Ching (R) is trying to join the 15 current Asian American House of Representative members. Ching, running to represent California’s 38th Congressional District, previously served as mayor of Walnut, California. 

“The reason I wanted to run [is] because I believe in Jesus Christ, and I have this calling to run. In fact, the slogan “you first” campaign was because I pray to Him and that came to my mind. It’s “you first” and I gotta put him first. Put people’s interests first,” Ching said. “It seems to me putting people’s interests first is not [what] many politicians have done or have been in their minds. So that’s why I ran for Congress to serve our people and communities.”

He is facing Democrat incumbent Rep. Linda Sánchez, who has represented the district since 2013. The 38th District, comprising East L.A. County and parts of Orange County, has a large Hispanic population, with 16 percent of the population comprising of Asians.

Ching’s campaign focuses on the right to bear arms, boosting border security, parents’ choice in schools, mental health, community safety and more. Ching said he thinks the perception that Asian Americans don’t care about politics is changing, noting that in his area multiple Asian Americans are running for office.

On how to combat Asian American hate, Ching brought up examples of what has been done in his city of Walnut, which has a 63% Asian population. 

“We have more than 50 neighborhood watch groups, we educate our folks to just ask to be careful,” Ching said. “And also, we have installed a high tech system in our city so career criminals, if you’re constantly involved in some kind of crime, if their current license is in a national database, we have a system to detect that we will know about it within a few seconds, so we can react to that.” 

Ching also said they have worked with the Deputy D.A. of Los Angeles and federal agencies to “protect our folks.”

Ching said it’s the responsibility of “elected officials” to help fight anti-Asian hate, that legislation is “not the solution.”

“The solution is to enforce current laws. If you have the laws, and then you have DA’s who don’t want to prosecute, that’s not going to help. Coupled by the state they’re pushing to release criminals. Governor Newsom has consistently been releasing the criminals that’s gonna, impact us in a great way. So I would just urge the elected [officials to] do their jobs  because government is here to serve and protect, and then I can see that sadly, many are not doing what they’re supposed to do.”

In an email, Rep. Sánchez, a member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, listed recent legislation impacting the AAPI community that she has fought for. Those include The American Rescue Plan, The Inflation Reduction Act, The Bipartisan Infrastructure and COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.

“It is critically important that AAPI small businesses in Southern California and across the country have the resources they need to compete in today’s market,” Sánchez said. “As a proud member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I fought hard to secure funding for AAPI-owned small businesses in every COVID-19 relief package we passed – including the COMPETES Act and the American Rescue Plan. We are building on those efforts now with the Inflation Reduction Act, which makes historic investments in the AAPI community by lowering health care costs for seniors and ensuring clean air and water for our children. I am also proud to stand with President Biden in making college more affordable for families and students.”

“Working families in my district want to bring down the cost of living, invest in good schools for our children, and ensure that our communities are safe,” Sánchez continued. “In Southern California we have a large AAPI population, and these are some of the top issues families are concerned about across the district. I am working hard in Congress to deliver results for them and their families every day.”

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