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We saw lots of firsts in the 2012 election—a Congress more diverse than ever before, victories for women and people of color at the polls, and a nation more engaged in its right to vote. We see both parties now confronting a changing discourse amid the triumph of demographic change that is inevitable in the evolution of this country.
While most pundits are talking about how President Obama overwhelmingly won the Latino vote, another big story from Election Day is the Asian-American community’s overwhelming support for the president. Asian-Americans appear to have mobilized at a higher turnout in 2012 than 2008, distinctly voting for a progressive, Democratic platform. Asian-Americans delivered 73 percent of their votes to reelect the president, the highest ever percentage of Asian-American votes for any single candidate. A community that regards a collective social safety net and educational opportunity as important principles, this often overlooked voting demographic supported a progressive platform based on shared values.
Asian-Americans constitute a diverse and multi-ethnic group, the fastest-growing racial group in the United States. Between 2000 and 2010, the Asian-American population grew at a rate of 46 percent. Although only a fraction of the national electorate at 3 percent, Asian-Americans were a strong factor in the 2012 election and will be a critical voter bloc in the future.
According to exit polls conducted by National CAPCD, Asian-Americans overwhelmingly cited the economy and jobs as their top issues in the election. Their level of concern for the challenges faced by their community was no different than any other voting bloc. That vision was aligned more closely with the party that opted for access to quality health care, education, and job creation. The Democratic Party embodies that spirit and offered a vision to build a nation that benefits all citizens, one that articulated the very core principles the Asian-American community identified with more closely than the Republican Party.
Support for the Democratic Party platform, rooted in a government that provides services to the middle class, reveals the most important issues facing the Asian-American community, with the economy, jobs, health care, and education at the forefront of the discussion. Policies that are equitable and fair for all ends of the socioeconomic spectrum resonated well for a community for which the unemployment rate is 8 percent and the number of those who do not have health care coverage is 15 percent. Policies tailored toward middle class values of hard work and an inclusive government that protects and supports communities resonated with Asian-Americans.
This community values education; more than 61 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree. The Democratic Party's values resonated well with deep-rooted Asian values of educational opportunity. Exit polling revealed that education emerged as a top issue among Asian-American voters, second only to the economy.
The Republican rhetoric that was exclusionary of immigrants alienated an adult population that is 74 percent foreign-born. The GOP's support for harsh immigration laws alienated the largest immigration stream in the United States, 36 percent of all new immigrants in 2010, migrating for opportunities that they would not often have in their country of origin. America’s burgeoning demographic change highlights the fact that as more immigrants and their descendants settle here, it becomes paramount to change the discourse in a way that reflects our values and our diverse communities.
The Asian-American narrative is a progressive one, touching upon shared values and respect for community and individual opportunities. Theirs is a story that adds to the demographic change in the nation, to the diverse challenges of our communities, and to the imperative need to promote a progressive vision based on values of fairness and opportunity. Policies that form a social safety net that help marginalized communities get good educations, garner jobs, and build strong families are values that Asian-Americans appreciate and value collectively.
An inherent feature of the American experience is the recognition of the collective common good, where diversity is cherished and many community voices are welcomed to the table. Our country’s best interest lies in reexamining the demographic changes that are indicative of the 21st century.
Angeline Vuong is a project manager with the Immigration Policy and Progress 2050 teams at the Center for American Progress.