by Momar Visaya/AJPress
NEW YORK – Asian American voters prefer Sen. Barack Obama, 41 percent to 24 percent nationally, over Sen. John McCain, according to a new national survey on Asian Americans released Monday, Oct. 6.
But that’s not the entire story.
According to the study, a high portion, or 34 percent of those surveyed, remains undecided. For the researchers, this is a key finding and a development that could set the stage for Asian Americans to play a pivotal role in the outcome of the November election.
The numbers could make a difference especially in battleground states where there is a growing Asian American population. Among the general population, national polls conducted since the major party conventions show that undecided voters are approximately 8 percent of the electorate.
The study shows that Filipino American voters support Obama, 35 percent over McCain, 29 percent. 34 percent remains undecided.
“A very large number of Asian Americans are non-partisan. The Asian American vote is very much up for grabs: Non-partisans who see either the Democratic or Republican party as closer to them on issues that matter to them are much likelier to vote for that party’s candidate,” UC Berkeley associate professor of political science Taeku Lee explained.
Karthick Ramakrishnan, an associate professor of political science at UC Riverside, agreed that with such a high proportion of undecided voters, “Asian Americans are a critical source of potential votes for either candidate in the final weeks of the campaign”
This groundbreaking study, released at a Washington, DC, press conference last October 6, was conducted by researchers from four leading universities: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley); University of California, Riverside (UC Riverside); and University of Southern California (USC).
The researchers’ 2008 National Asian American Survey (NAAS) shows that 41 percent of Asian Americans are likely to favor Obama, while 24 percent support John McCain. In battleground states, where either candidate could win on Election Day, Obama leads with 43 percent of Asian Americans supporting him and 22 percent favoring McCain.
The multi-ethnic, multi-lingual survey of more than 4,000 Asian Americans likely to vote in the election was conducted from Aug. 18 to Sept. 26. It is the most comprehensive survey to date of the political views of Asian Americans, with interviews conducted in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
“Most national polls cannot report the preferences of these likely voters because they do not interview in multiple languages, and the number of interviews they conduct among Asian Americans is very small,” said Janelle Wong, an associate professor of political science at USC.
By drawing on the knowledge of political scientists with expertise in survey research and ethnic politics, and with support from several foundations, the NAAS data provide insight about Asian Americans as a whole, the researchers say, as well as about their six largest ethnic subgroups: Asian Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese.
Asian Americans make up a significant proportion of the total population in states such as Hawaii (56 percent), California (13 percent), New Jersey (8 percent), Washington (8 percent), and New York (7 percent).
The population is also growing rapidly beyond the “traditional gateways.” Between the 1990 and 2000 censuses, the Asian American population has more than doubled in 19 states. In fact, the electoral battleground states of Nevada, New Hampshire, Florida, and Georgia are home to some of the fastest growing Asian American populations in the country.
The study also shows that more Asian Americans identify as Democrats than as Republicans by a wide margin of 32 percent to 14 percent and a significant proportion identify as Independents, 19 percent.
Of the Filipinos surveyed, 35 percent identified themselves as Democrats while 19 percent responded Republicans. 28 percent said they were non-partisan and 18 percent said they were Independent.
Among the communities surveyed, Asian Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipinos have more Democrats than Republicans. Vietnamese Americans identify with the Republican Party over the Democratic Party by nearly a two-to-one ratio
About 80 percent of likely voters surveyed list the economy as one of the most important problems the nation faces, followed by the war in Iraq. On both issues, there are strongly divided opinions between Obama and McCain supporters.
“Even as the Iraq war has receded from the headlines as concerns about the economy have become more prominent, the war still plays a powerful role in the Asian American choice for president” says Jane Junn, an associate professor of political science at Rutgers.
Respondents also said that oil prices, job/unemployment and immigration are among the issues that they think are the most important problems facing the United States today.
Next to Latinos, Asian Americans are the fastest growing community on the US today. Currently, they comprise 5 percent of the population and, according to the researchers, will likely play a significant role in battleground states such as Virginia, Nevada and Washington, where they account for 5 percent or more of the population.
Even in states such as Colorado, Ohio and Florida, where they are less numerous, Asian Americans may provide the margin of victory, the researchers added.
Home country politics
There are some media accounts and scholarly articles that suggest that Asian Americans are less likely to participate in American politics because of their focus on the politics of their home countries. The survey included questions on whether respondents send money to their countries of origin, whether they have been in contact with friends and family, and whether they have participated in the politics of that country.
Nearly three quarters (74 percent) of respondents have been in contact with friends and family and one third (33 percent) have sent money to people in their home country. However, only 4 percent have participated in the politics of their home country. The figures are similar when looking only at adult citizens in our survey: 69 percent have been in contact with friends and family, 31 percent have sent money to people, and only 4 percent have been involved in the politics of their countries of origin.
“Most importantly, those who participate in the politics of their home countries are actually more likely to vote in the United States than those who do not (73 percent versus 67 percent). Thus, participation in home country politics is not a deterrent to participation in the United States,” the report said.