Asian Americans emerge as a force in US politics | Voice of America
Michelle Steel was born in South Korea and raised in Japan. Last year, she became one of the first Korean American women elected to the United States Congress, winning a seat in the House of Representatives. In running for office, she faced the challenges of being an immigrant.
“I have a very shy personality so it’s harder to go out with my accent and speak in front of people,” said Steel, a Republican who represents California’s 48th District.
Steel’s political commitment reflects the changing face of the American electorate and the government officials they choose.
Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted, removing barriers preventing African Americans from voting, the face of the American voter has gradually changed. In the 2020 election, Asian Americans demonstrated their political might in presidential races and in Congress, contributing to a record turnout across the country.
Demographers and other experts say Asian Americans will gradually become a dominant force in American politics.
“Asian Americans have become a new electoral force to be reckoned with,” said Sara Sadhwani, senior researcher for AAPI Data.
The turnout for Asian-American voters hit an all-time high of nearly 60% in 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. With a margin of 68% to 28%, Asian Americans voted for Democrat Joe Biden rather than incumbent President Donald Trump, according to a poll conducted the day before the election by the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI). ) Civic Engagement Fund and 21 other organizations.
“Over the last few election cycles, what we have seen is that Asian Americans have turned more and more to the Democratic Party, and that was certainly the case in 2020 as well,” said Sadhwani.
When the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund asked Asian Americans about the issues that matter most to them, jobs, the economy, and health care were still on the list. The Democrats’ talking points in 2020 also resonated with many Asian Americans.
The government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, discrimination and racial justice were other high-profile issues, according to the director of the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund, EunSook Lee.
The researchers said the historic increase in voter turnout for Asian Americans in 2020 from 2016 levels was due to a response to a wave of hate incidents against Asians in the United States.
“A number of studies have examined the impact of feeling discriminated against, a sense of social exclusion and how this really prompts Asian Americans to come out and register to participate in elections,” Sadhwani said. .
The margin of victory: Georgia
Asian American voters increased their turnout in every battlefield state more than any other minority group, according to Democratic political data firm TargetSmart.
The South Georgia Battlefield State is an example of how Asian American voters influenced election results in 2020. The turnout among Asian American voters was about 62,000 more than in the 2016 presidential election.
“Considering that the Biden-Harris ticket won the state by less than 12,000 votes, the rise of the AAPI was clearly decisive,” TargetSmart said in a newsletter.
“Because of this victory in the presidential election in November, when the Senate elections were held, people turned strongly to the AAPI people in Georgia,” said Judy Chu of California, who in 2009 became the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress.
“We saw an impressive ground game to really get Asian Americans to register and vote,” Sadhwani said. “Asian Americans were part of this narrative of how Georgia went from being a Republican stronghold to supporting President Biden and sending two Democrats to the Senate.”
In January, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock swept Georgia’s two parliamentary elections in the United States, handing control of the Senate from the Republicans to the Democrats.
“Asian Americans are moving from marginalization to the sidelines of victory,” Chu noted. “I think the two sides hadn’t done much to reach the AAPI voter, but I think that is changing now.”
Asian Americans in Politics
Asian Americans set another record in 2020, with 21 elected to Congress, further prompting Asians to go to the polls.
“With each electoral cycle we have seen an increase in the turnout of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and every time we see Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on the ballot, this also increases voter turnout, ”said Madalene Mielke, president and CEO of the Asian Pacific Institute for Congressional Studies.
“Don’t overlook Asian Americans who won in 2020, but as a population Asian Americans are underrepresented,” said Lee of the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund.
Asians and Pacific Islanders make up 6.1% of the US population but only make up 0.9% of elected officials.
One factor: According to the Pew Research Center and the US Census, 71% of Asian American adults were not born in the United States. Some speak limited English, according to Chu.
“We are a population where many may not be familiar with the American ways of democracy,” Chu said. “It takes a bit of getting used to, to know that your voice counts, and especially if you come from a country where there are no real free and fair elections or maybe where there is not. no elections at all as far as we know. “
As more Asian Americans enter politics, Asian American voters are increasingly interested and engaged in their campaigns.
“We want to see people who look like us on TV, in positions of power, and can spread the message and build the coalition, a necessary ally for real change,” Gigi Li said at a campaign rally in June for entrepreneur Andrew Yang. , who had run for the mayor of New York City before dropping out of the race later that month.
Since Biden took office six months ago, Asian Americans have seen a new hate crimes law passed that addresses the rise in violence against them. However, not everyone is optimistic about the continuation of positive change.
“We see that there is a rise in Asian hatred. We are more and more recognized by politicians, but I have a feeling that once it calms down, we will probably be in it again. shadow, ”said Kevin Liu, another voter who attended the Andrew Yang event. .
The Pew Research Center predicts that Asian Americans will become the largest immigrant group in the United States by 2055.
“It’s no longer a population that is calm and not going to vote. They arrived in record numbers in 2020 and you don’t go back once you get activated,” Lee said.