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Asian Americans Look to Increase Political Clout

Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic-minority group in the United States and both major political parties are starting to take notice. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

The population of Asian Americans grew by 72 percent between the census reports of 1990 and 2000. There are now an estimated 12 million Asian Americans in the United States and they total about four percent of the U.S. population.

A new survey of Asian American voters from last year's U.S. presidential election suggests Democrats have an advantage over Republicans in drawing their support.

The survey was conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and conducted exit polls with Asian American voters in eight states.

The survey found that Asian Americans preferred Democratic candidate John Kerry over President Bush by a margin of 74 to 24 percent. Senator Kerry won seven of the eight states where the exit polls were conducted. Other national surveys showed that Asian Americans preferred Mr. Kerry by a smaller margin of 10 to 7 points.

The new survey also documents some differences in voting patterns among the various Asian-American ethnic groups.

Nancy Yu is a policy analyst with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

"The Southeast Asians, they are very, very interesting because a majority of Laotian and Cambodian voters are Democratic, about 63 or 64 percent, but nearly half of the Vietnamese voters are registered Republicans, which accounts for the large enrollment in the Republican Party," she explained.

Political experts say that the more conservative voting pattern of Vietnamese American voters tends to reflect the fact that many fled communist rule at the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s.

Like other U.S. voters, Asian American voters tended to support one candidate or the other based on what they felt were the most important issues to them.

Once again, Nancy Yu.

"But among Bush supporters, we found that terrorism and security was their number one issue. Among Kerry supporters, the number one factor influencing their vote for Kerry was the economy and jobs," she noted.

But the survey also found a great deal of unity among Asian American ethnic groups over the issue of protecting civil liberties and civil rights.

Deepa Iyer is executive director of a group called South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow.

"Of the choices that South Asians had among the civil rights issues that they felt were important, they overwhelmingly chose civil liberties,” she explained. “Pakistanis and Bangladeshis chose that even more, 32 percent of Pakistanis and 41 percent of Bangladeshis and almost a quarter of Indians chose civil liberties."

The exit poll included interviews with 11,000 Asian Americans in English and seven other languages. The five largest ethnic groups surveyed were Chinese, South Asian, Korean, Southeast Asian, and Filipino.

More than 80 percent of those interviewed were foreign-born and more than 40 percent of the Asian Americans surveyed were voting for the first time.

Both major U.S. political parties noticed last year's strong election turnout among Asian Americans and intend to devote more resources in the future to winning them over.

Jane Chung is with the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium based in Los Angeles. She says both Democrats and Republicans need to realize the changing nature of the Asian American voter.

“For numerous years, we had elderly, senior, first generation, foreign born voters who continuously come out to the polls,” she said. “But now, recently, we see a growing number of young, second generation English speaking voters who are now coming of age. So, that tells us that we need to redesign our civic engagement work and be more linguistically and culturally sensitive to the young voters."

The survey said many first-time Asian American voters faced language barriers at the polls and recommends that more interpreters in more languages be available at voting places.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund also says it found several instances of voter discrimination during the election and says individual states need to do a better job of enforcing voter safeguards.