Undecided Asian-Americans Prove to be Powerful Voting Bloc

Long an ignored slice of the electorate, Asian-Americans are increasingly flexing their political muscles this year, as candidates and constituents.

resident Barack Obama greets people in the audience after delivering the keynote address at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies 18th Annual Gala Dinner in Washington, D.C., May 8, 2012. 
The White House
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Shane Goldmacher
Oct. 29, 2012, 7:13 a.m.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — The silken scarves that Ben and Josh Rom­ney wore as they toured a sub­urb­an shop­ping mall of Vi­et­namese busi­nesses this month were bright yel­low, with thin red stripes. They wer­en’t fash­ion state­ments; they were polit­ic­al ac­cessor­ies. As the Rom­neys pitched their fath­er’s pres­id­en­tial bid, the scarves epi­tom­ized the kind of gran­u­lar at­ten­tion to de­tail that cam­paigns now pay to Asi­an-Amer­ic­an voters: The vi­brant col­ors iden­ti­fied their op­pos­i­tion to Vi­et­namese com­mun­ism and their sup­port for the loc­al Vi­et­namese-Amer­ic­an com­munity.

Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans con­sti­tute only about 6 per­cent of Vir­gin­ia‘s pop­u­la­tion, but they have be­come a coveted con­stitu­ency in a state at the cen­ter of the battle for the pres­id­ency and the Sen­ate. And the Eden Cen­ter shop­ping mall in the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs has be­come something of a ground zero in the battle for their votes.

Two of the Rom­ney broth­ers stopped by this month. So did vo­lun­teers for Pres­id­ent Obama’s cam­paign, which or­gan­ized a voter-re­gis­tra­tion drive dur­ing the mall’s re­cent Moon Fest­iv­al. Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate can­did­ate George Al­len made a whistle-stop in Septem­ber, and his wife, Susan, toured sev­er­al Eden Cen­ter busi­nesses over the sum­mer. Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate can­did­ate Tim Kaine whirled through for an eco­nom­ic roundtable earli­er in the year. “They’re all com­ing down to our com­munity,” says Hung Ho­ang, a 48-year-old barber who has worked in the mall for two dec­ades. “More, more, more than be­fore.”

Blame Bob Mc­Don­nell, at least in part. Dur­ing his 2009 cam­paign for gov­ernor, the Re­pub­lic­an made an un­pre­ced­en­ted push for these voters, air­ing Asi­an-lan­guage tele­vi­sion and ra­dio ads and stuff­ing mail­boxes with lit­er­at­ure in Korean, Chinese, Vi­et­namese, and Ta­ga­log, a Filipino lan­guage. Mc­Don­nell spun through the Eden Cen­ter no less than three times. Ul­ti­mately, he flipped the state’s most Asi­an-Amer­ic­an-heavy pre­cincts en route to a rare Re­pub­lic­an win in Fair­fax County, home of the Eden Cen­ter and the epi­cen­ter of Vir­gin­ia’s Asi­an-Amer­ic­an pop­u­la­tion. In one of those pre­cincts, where more than 45 per­cent of voters have Asi­an an­ces­try, Obama won with 63 per­cent; Mc­Don­nell got 52 per­cent there, a Na­tion­al Journ­al ana­lys­is showed. The les­son: With a bit of ef­fort, the Asi­an-Amer­ic­an vote could be had by either polit­ic­al party.

Long an ig­nored slice of the elect­or­ate, Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans are in­creas­ingly flex­ing their polit­ic­al muscles this year, as can­did­ates and as con­stitu­ents. Asi­ans, not His­pan­ics, were Amer­ica’s fast­est-grow­ing minor­ity group in the last dec­ade, and many now live far bey­ond the tra­di­tion­al en­claves of Cali­for­nia and Hawaii. As a res­ult, they are be­ing cour­ted and catered to in key battle­grounds such as Nevada and Vir­gin­ia. Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans hold the gov­ernor­ships in the seem­ingly un­likely states of Louisi­ana and South Car­o­lina. They are run­ning for Con­gress in re­cord num­bers in 2012.

And, demo­graph­ers and polit­ic­al strategists agree, it’s just the be­gin­ning.


“We’ve got to get com­mu­nic­at­ing,” says Shawn Steel, a Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee mem­ber and an out­spoken evan­gel­ist about the im­port­ance of the Asi­an-Amer­ic­an vote. He talks in the ur­gency of now, even if he’s speak­ing about a slow-mov­ing demo­graph­ic trend that has been dec­ades in the mak­ing. In 1965, the year Amer­ica last re­wrote its im­mig­ra­tion rules, Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans were less than 1 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. Today, that fig­ure is near­ing 6 per­cent and spiral­ing up­ward. The num­ber of Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans jumped from 11.9 mil­lion in 2000 to 17.3 mil­lion in 2010, a 46 per­cent growth rate that out­paced even that of His­pan­ics, ac­cord­ing to the Census Bur­eau. “I’m on fire about this,” Steel says.

A former chair­man of the Cali­for­nia Re­pub­lic­an Party, he knows what it’s like to miss a demo­graph­ic wave. As the Latino pop­u­la­tion swelled in Cali­for­nia, it turned Ron­ald Re­agan’s state in­to a Demo­crat­ic strong­hold. If Re­pub­lic­ans were swept away by the Latino wave, Steel reck­ons, they’d bet­ter not miss the com­ing Asi­an-Amer­ic­an one. “We’ve got to get on it,” he says, “and we’re run­ning out of time.”

The Latino pop­u­la­tion wave, of course, has long since surged past Cali­for­nia and oth­er bor­der states to far-off places like Iowa, North Car­o­lina, and Utah. The breadth of the di­a­spora is one reas­on that Lati­nos are now so polit­ic­ally power­ful: The His­pan­ic vote is a po­ten­tial dif­fer­ence-maker al­most every­where.

Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans are fol­low­ing a sim­il­ar tra­ject­ory, only a few dec­ades be­hind. Every state saw its Asi­an and Pa­cific Is­lander pop­u­la­tion jump by at least 30 per­cent between 2000 and 2010 (ex­cept Hawaii, which was already ma­jor­ity Asi­an-Amer­ic­an). The Asi­an pop­u­la­tion surged by 71 per­cent in Vir­gin­ia, 95 per­cent in Ari­zona, 85 per­cent in North Car­o­lina, and 116 per­cent in Nevada, ac­cord­ing to census fig­ures.

Thank an in­flux of Asi­an im­mig­rants. Des­pite the na­tion’s fo­cus on Latino im­mig­ra­tion, Asi­ans ac­tu­ally out­numbered His­pan­ics in 2010, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent data avail­able from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter — a re­versal of past trends. Nearly two-thirds of Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans are for­eign-born.

Be­cause there were so few Asi­ans to be­gin with, the rap­id growth rate can be mis­lead­ing in some places. But not every­where: In Nevada, for in­stance, Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans and Pa­cific Is­landers now make up about 9 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion — more than the state’s much-dis­cussed Mor­mon com­munity.

It’s one of the reas­ons that Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id hos­ted a get-out-the-vote rally with Filipino box­ing sen­sa­tion Manny Pac­quiao in Nevada two years ago. And why this year’s Sen­ate com­batants there, GOP in­cum­bent Dean Heller and Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger Shel­ley Berkley, have clashed over who would bet­ter rep­res­ent Filipino vet­er­ans. In Clark County, home to Las Ve­gas and most of the state’s pop­u­la­tion, bal­lots will be avail­able for the first time in three lan­guages: Eng­lish, Span­ish, and Ta­ga­log.

Three con­ver­ging trends have mag­ni­fied the im­port­ance of the Asi­an-Amer­ic­an vote, says Bill Wong, a Demo­crat­ic polit­ic­al strategist in Cali­for­nia. The first is rap­id pop­u­la­tion growth. The second is that polit­ic­al cam­paigns can be won and lost on a razor’s edge. The third is that Asi­ans are swing voters. “We’re large enough to be rel­ev­ant, and the mar­gins are small enough to make it mat­ter,” he says. Or, as Mee Moua, pres­id­ent of the Asi­an Amer­ic­an Justice Cen­ter and a former Min­nesota state law­maker, likes to say, “Those who ig­nore us do so at their own per­il.”

The GOP is learn­ing to play this game. Govs. Bobby Jin­dal of Louisi­ana and Nikki Haley of South Car­o­lina, both In­di­an-Amer­ic­an, are con­sidered among the party’s bright­est rising stars. And one of Mitt Rom­ney’s top policy ad­visers, Lan­hee Chen, is Taiwanese-Amer­ic­an.

Still, there have been hic­cups. Earli­er this year, the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee ac­ci­dent­ally fea­tured a stock photo of Asi­an kids on a web­site for Latino out­reach. And GOP Sen­ate can­did­ate Pete Hoek­stra of Michigan was widely cri­ti­cized for an ad that fea­tured an Asi­an wo­man rid­ing a bike through rice pad­dies and speak­ing in broken Eng­lish about how Demo­crat­ic Sen. Debbie Stabenow shipped money and jobs to China. “Your eco­nomy get very weak. Ours get very good,” says the Asi­an act­ress in the ad, who later apo­lo­gized for play­ing in­to ste­reo­types.

As TV ads set to omin­ous mu­sic ham­mer China as the en­emy of Amer­ic­an jobs, Steel — whose wife of 30 years, Michelle Steel, is Korean-Amer­ic­an and an elec­ted Cali­for­nia tax board mem­ber — frets over the “clue­less­ness of Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ants who re­fuse to ex­pand their minds” and grasp the im­port­ance of out­reach to Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans. “For Demo­crats, this comes nat­ur­al,” Steel says. “Give them a new com­munity and they’re all over it. They’ve done this for 150 years, ever since Tam­many Hall wel­comed the Ir­ish.”


Every year, the United States be­comes less and less white. In the 2012 elec­tion, GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee Mitt Rom­ney could win a re­cord share of the white vote — as much as 60 per­cent — and still lose. Already, Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans are solidly in the Demo­crat­ic co­ali­tion, and each cycle seems to move the Latino vote fur­ther in that dir­ec­tion. Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans have been fol­low­ing them stead­ily in­to the Demo­crat­ic Party (in pres­id­en­tial polit­ics) for two dec­ades. In 1992, Bill Clin­ton garnered only 31 per­cent of the Asi­an-Amer­ic­an vote. By 2008, Barack Obama had doubled that mark, pulling a high of 62 per­cent. In every pres­id­en­tial race in between, exit polls showed Demo­crats stead­ily in­creas­ing their vote share.

But the Asi­an-Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al story isn’t fully writ­ten just yet. Stud­ies show, and polit­ic­al strategists on both sides of the aisle agree, that the com­munity re­mains per­suad­able by either party. The Na­tion­al Asi­an Amer­ic­an Sur­vey showed that 32 per­cent of likely voters in this group were still up for grabs in Septem­ber — at a time when most sur­veys found only 5 to 10 per­cent of the total elect­or­ate still un­de­cided. (The sur­vey, which con­duc­ted more than 3,000 in­ter­views in 11 Asi­an lan­guages in Au­gust and early Septem­ber, found that Obama led Rom­ney 43 per­cent to 24 per­cent.) “There is all this talk about how every­one has made up their minds. That’s ab­so­lutely not true for Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans,” says Karthick Ra­makrish­nan, the sur­vey’s dir­ect­or and a pro­fess­or at the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (River­side).

Yet both parties do a re­l­at­ively poor job of reach­ing out to them. A siz­able ma­jor­ity of Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans said in a dif­fer­ent poll this spring that neither polit­ic­al party had con­tac­ted them in the past two years. The sur­vey, con­duc­ted by Demo­crat­ic poll­ster Celinda Lake, even over-sampled the swing states of Flor­ida, Nevada, and Vir­gin­ia. Still, among self-iden­ti­fied par­tis­ans, only 23 per­cent of Asi­an Demo­crats and 17 per­cent of Asi­an Re­pub­lic­ans said they had been con­tac­ted this cycle. “That’s lower than we’ve seen for oth­er pop­u­la­tions,” Lake says.

Among coveted in­de­pend­ents, nearly 60 per­cent of Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans said they’d heard noth­ing from either ma­jor polit­ic­al party. This is what drives Shawn Steel bonkers. “You’re go­ing to melt TV sets all over Amer­ica with your ads,” he says of the pres­id­en­tial con­test, yet “there is still a fresh op­por­tun­ity to go after Asi­an-Amer­ic­an voters.”

Of course, one of the first rules about the Asi­an-Amer­ic­an vote is that there is no such thing as the Asi­an-Amer­ic­an vote. It is a self-serving con­struct that com­munity lead­ers ad­op­ted dec­ades ago to in­flate their over­all num­bers. Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans aren’t mono­lith­ic; they are splintered among dis­tinct­ive eth­nic groups, each with its own so­cial, cul­tur­al, and polit­ic­al his­tory. Un­like Lati­nos, most of whom hail from Span­ish-speak­ing coun­tries, Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans have no com­mon lan­guage. “We ag­greg­ated ourselves for polit­ic­al lever­age,” says Rep. Mike Honda, a Ja­pan­ese-Amer­ic­an and the only mem­ber of Con­gress to have been in­terned dur­ing World War II. “In the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, you needed num­bers. You go against the Lati­nos and Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans — our num­bers were pretty small.”

“Asi­an-Amer­ic­an” is “a mean­ing­less term,” says Darry Sragow, a Demo­crat­ic strategist based in Los Angeles. When he con­venes fo­cus groups, Sragow says, he se­greg­ates by eth­ni­city. “There are Vi­et­namese, Filipino, Chinese, Ja­pan­ese, Korean, and more.” Oth­er­wise the res­ults are all but use­less for tar­get­ing voters. “They each come with at­ti­tudes from the coun­tries they emig­rate from,” he says. Phil Cox, Mc­Don­nell’s cam­paign man­ager, calls this “the most im­port­ant les­son that our cam­paign learned early on” in tar­get­ing Asi­an voters.

Amer­ic­ans of Chinese des­cent are the coun­try’s most pop­u­lous Asi­an-Amer­ic­an group (23 per­cent), fol­lowed by those with ties to the Phil­ip­pines (20 per­cent), In­dia (18 per­cent), Vi­et­nam (10 per­cent), Korea (10 per­cent), and Ja­pan (8 per­cent), ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter. The Ja­pan­ese and Filipino pop­u­la­tions live over­whelm­ingly in the West. The In­di­an pop­u­la­tion is al­most evenly spread across the coun­try. Nearly half of Korean, Chinese, and Vi­et­namese res­id­ents are in the West, but one-third of Vi­et­namese res­id­ents are in the South. Chinese and Koreans are far more con­cen­trated in the North­east.

Their polit­ic­al lean­ings fall on a con­tinuum. On the left, In­di­an-Amer­ic­ans are now stal­warts of the Demo­crat­ic Party. Half iden­ti­fied as Demo­crats in the na­tion­al sur­vey, while only 3 per­cent said they were Re­pub­lic­ans. Ra­makrish­nan says that the In­di­an-Amer­ic­an com­munity turned more Demo­crat­ic after 9/11, when they be­came tar­gets of ra­cial pro­fil­ing at a time of GOP rule. They are also, among Asi­an eth­nic groups, the most edu­cated (70 per­cent have a bach­el­or’s de­gree or more, ac­cord­ing to Pew) and the least Chris­ti­an (only 18 per­cent) — factors that fa­vor the Demo­crats in the broad­er elect­or­ate.

The Vi­et­namese-Amer­ic­an story, on the oth­er hand, “is very sim­il­ar to that of Cuban-Amer­ic­ans,” Ra­makrish­nan says. “Both are in­tensely an­ti­com­mun­ist. Both thought of the Demo­crat­ic Party as soft on com­mun­ism.” A plur­al­ity of Filipi­nos (27 per­cent) and Vi­et­namese voters (20 per­cent) iden­ti­fied with the Re­pub­lic­an Party. Among Asi­an-Amer­ic­an eth­nic groups, Filipi­nos are the most over­whelm­ing Chris­ti­an (89 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Pew), with al­most two-thirds of the pop­u­la­tion be­long­ing to the Cath­ol­ic Church.

Polit­ic­ally, oth­er Asi­an eth­ni­cit­ies tend to fall some­where in between. The com­mon thread across all groups is a re­l­at­ively weak tie to polit­ic­al parties: 58 per­cent of Chinese-Amer­ic­ans identi­fy them­selves as in­de­pend­ent, as do 64 per­cent of Vi­et­namese-Amer­ic­ans. Like most Amer­ic­ans this cycle, Asi­ans care most about the eco­nomy (55 per­cent of likely voters), un­em­ploy­ment (13 per­cent), and health care and edu­ca­tion (4 per­cent each).

Honda, who has traveled the coun­try as vice chair of the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee since 2005, says there is no secret in­gredi­ent to woo­ing Asi­an-Amer­ic­an voters — oth­er than simply talk­ing to them. “They’re not as mar­ried to the party as they are to the is­sues,” Honda says. “They’re out there to be cour­ted. If you talk to them, they gen­er­ally will move with you.”


No state of­fers a bet­ter win­dow in­to the coun­try’s in­creas­ingly Asi­an-Amer­ic­an fu­ture than Cali­for­nia, where the Latino boom has ob­scured oth­er trends. In 1990, re­gistered Asi­an-Amer­ic­an voters in the state amoun­ted to just 3 per­cent of the elect­or­ate and numbered only 400,000, says Mark DiC­a­millo, dir­ect­or of Cali­for­nia’s Field Poll. (To put that in per­spect­ive, there are cur­rently more Asi­an-Amer­ic­an res­id­ents in Vir­gin­ia than there were re­gistered Asi­an voters in Cali­for­nia 20 years ago.)

But Cali­for­nia’s Asi­an-Amer­ic­an pop­u­la­tion has mush­roomed. By 2012, 1.4 mil­lion re­gistered Asi­an-Amer­ic­an voters lived there, rep­res­ent­ing 8 per­cent of the elect­or­ate. In fact, Asi­an-Amer­ic­an and Latino voters ac­count for 90 per­cent of all new voters ad­ded to Cali­for­nia’s rolls in the past two dec­ades, DiC­a­millo says — a trend that will con­tin­ue in­to the fore­see­able fu­ture.

As demo­graphy re­shaped Cali­for­nia’s elect­or­ate, the state’s top labor lead­ers began an am­bi­tious pro­gram lead­ing up to the 2010 gubernat­ori­al elec­tion: a massive study to identi­fy the state’s most polit­ic­ally per­suad­able people — the swingi­est swing voters. What was most sur­pris­ing was how many were Asi­an-Amer­ic­an: 400,000 out of 2 mil­lion, or roughly 20 per­cent — more than double their share of the elect­or­ate. What the study meant is that those Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans who vote have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate ef­fect on elec­tions. “It was cer­tainly an eye-open­er for us,” says Steve Smith, com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or for the Cali­for­nia Labor Fed­er­a­tion.

The group de­signed an Asi­an-lan­guage out­reach pro­gram with a six-fig­ure budget and papered voters with mail­ers in three lan­guages on be­half of Demo­crat Jerry Brown. His op­pon­ent, GOP bil­lion­aire Meg Whit­man, took to the air­waves in Cantonese and Man­dar­in. It was a pre­view of what fu­ture cam­paigns could hold.

In the end, Asi­an-Amer­ic­an voters did swing. Brown won 57 per­cent of their votes, ac­cord­ing to exit polls — a sharp re­versal from four years earli­er, when Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Arnold Schwar­zeneg­ger had car­ried 62 per­cent. Though both Brown and Schwar­zeneg­ger won in routs, Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans were the only eth­nic group that flipped par­tis­an al­le­gi­ance. “If the Asi­an vote goes for a can­did­ate statewide,” Smith sums up, “there’s a very good chance that can­did­ate wins the race.”

Today, the Cali­for­nia state con­trol­ler, the at­tor­ney gen­er­al, and the may­ors of Oak­land and San Fran­cisco are Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans. In 2012, three new Asi­an-Amer­ic­an can­did­ates are run­ning for the House from the Golden State with a le­git­im­ate shot to win: Ricky Gill, a 25-year-old GOP wun­der­kind chal­len­ging Demo­crat­ic Rep. Jerry McNer­ney; Ami Be­ra, a Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger to Rep. Dan Lun­gren; and Mark Takano, who is run­ning in an open South­ern Cali­for­nia seat. “Ten years ago, we had trouble try­ing to get people to run,” says Wong, the Demo­crat­ic strategist. “Now we’ve got people lin­ing up.”

Ed Lee, the San Fran­cisco may­or who won by fend­ing off four oth­er Asi­an-Amer­ic­an can­did­ates, sees a gen­er­a­tion­al shift. “A couple of gen­er­a­tions be­fore, it was, “˜Let’s not deal with polit­ics. It’s dirty. You got to com­prom­ise too much,’ “ he says. The com­munity now real­izes that “if you don’t have the seat at the table, you’re prob­ably go­ing to be on the menu.”


It’s not just hap­pen­ing in Cali­for­nia, of course. In 2012, a re­cord num­ber of Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans have run for Con­gress, in­clud­ing 25 chal­lengers — triple the num­ber who ran in 2008 or 2010, ac­cord­ing to the Asi­an Pa­cific Amer­ic­an In­sti­tute for Con­gres­sion­al Stud­ies. Many are poised to break new ground. In Hawaii, the only state with a ma­jor­ity Asi­an-Amer­ic­an pop­u­la­tion, Demo­crat­ic Rep. Mazie Hirono is likely to be the first Asi­an-Amer­ic­an wo­man elec­ted to the U.S. Sen­ate. In New York, Demo­crat Grace Meng has the in­side track to be­come the first Asi­an-Amer­ic­an to rep­res­ent the state in Con­gress. Same for Demo­crat Tammy Duck­worth in Illinois.

Cur­rently, only eight Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans are in the House and two in the Sen­ate (both from Hawaii). “It’s about time we had more mem­bers of Con­gress,” says Duck­worth, an Army vet­er­an who lost her legs in the Ir­aq War and had a speak­ing slot at this year’s Demo­crat­ic con­ven­tion. “It opens the door in oth­er Asi­ans’ minds.”

At the pres­id­en­tial level, the real cam­paign fo­cus and cash this year went to bet­ter-es­tab­lished voter-out­reach pro­grams. Obama and Rom­ney have sub­mit­ted to Uni­vi­sion in­ter­rog­a­tions about Latino is­sues and cut nu­mer­ous Span­ish-lan­guage ads. (Somos una nación de in­migrantes, Craig Rom­ney says in one.) Amid a bil­lion-dol­lar polit­ic­al ad­vert­ising spree, al­most no money will be spent on Asi­an TV.

But pols are be­gin­ning to re­cog­nize the chan­ging fu­ture. In Vir­gin­ia, Re­pub­lic­ans are hop­ing to fol­low the in­roads that Mc­Don­nell made in­to the Asi­an-Amer­ic­an com­munity. Cox, Mc­Don­nell’s cam­paign man­ager, says that his team viewed the Asi­an-Amer­ic­an vote as es­sen­tial from the start of the 2009 race. “Every single time he was in North­ern Vir­gin­ia, which was mul­tiple times a week, there was an event with the Asi­an com­munity,” Cox re­calls. And at stops with Vi­et­namese voters, Mc­Don­nell wore a yel­low-and-red scarf draped around his neck.

In a state where Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans ac­coun­ted for nearly one in four new res­id­ents in the last dec­ade, des­pite be­ing only a frac­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, every ma­jor 2012 cam­paign has made a play for their votes — leaf­let­ing at Asi­an fest­ivals, at­tend­ing In­di­an fairs, and churn­ing out plenty of bi­lin­gual lit­er­at­ure. At one sleepy park bar­be­cue this spring sponsored by a loc­al Chinese-Amer­ic­an GOP club, George Al­len and his wife lingered for more than an hour, shak­ing the hands of every at­tendee and ask­ing them to vo­lun­teer.

Mak­ing an ef­fort mat­ters, es­pe­cially in a com­munity that has long been ig­nored. “It def­in­itely makes an im­pact, be­cause it shows they’re try­ing,” says Jonath­an Duong, a 21-year-old who works in the Eden Cen­ter mall and plans to vote for Rom­ney.

Mindy Tran, who runs a skin-care and cos­met­ics shop in the mall, re­mem­bers the yel­low-and-red scarves the Rom­ney boys wore. The pat­tern “has a lot of mean­ing to us,” she says. “Look,” she points to a flag nestled on the top shelf of her store, al­most touch­ing the ceil­ing. “There’s one up there.”

This art­icle ap­peared in print as “The Next Swing Voter Is Asi­an-Amer­ic­an.”

This art­icle ap­peared in the Sat­urday, Oc­to­ber 27, 2012 edi­tion of Na­tion­al Journ­al.


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