Asians are the fastest-growing minority group in the United States, and political scientists say they are starting to have an impact on U.S. politics.
Traditionally, politicians had dismissed the Asian American electorate, voting expert Tanzila Ahmed said.
“One of the biggest issues is people think Asians are this big, monolithic group, and we’re not. We’re so different,” said Ahmed, who is voter engagement manager for Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles.
But Ahmed said something has changed for the coming general election.
“I think now for the first time we see politicians actually going, 'Wait a second -- who are these people? How can we get them to be a part of our campaign, get them to be a part of our party?' "
That’s because Asian American voters are having an impact on election outcomes nationwide, said U.S. Rep. Judy Chu of California, a Democrat who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
“In certain states, [Asians] are providing a margin of victory," she said. "For instance, in Nevada and in Virginia, they are a growing percentage that can influence the outcome of really close elections.“
Chu is running for re-election in a district in which Asians and Pacific Islanders make up nearly 40 percent of the residents. She said language is one of the biggest barriers for politicians trying to reaching out to this community.
“There are many for whom English is not the first language," she said. "And that means that if you’re going to do voting materials, they really should be translated to various languages."
Polls show more Asian Americans vote for Democrats than for Republicans. But Allison Watanabe, a Democrat, said she wouldn't vote for a candidate just because he or she is is Asian.
“Not if they do not share my values,” she said.
Political scientist Morris Levy said many Asian Americans don’t identify with a particular political party.
“Even among voters who were voting Democrat in the last few elections, many are reluctant to say, 'I identify myself as a Democrat,' " he said.
Both parties are trying to capture the Asian American vote.
Shawn Steel, a Californian who is a member of the Republican National Committee, called Asian Americans "the most successful group of immigrants to have ever assimilated in America, the quickest and the most effective. It’s perfect material for the changing Republican Party, not merely to have them vote but to have them lead the Republican Party.”
Eyes on Orange County
Steel's wife, Michelle, is one of several Republican Asian Americans running for office in state and local races. She is seeking an Orange County government position.
“The Republican National Committee is watching Orange County, because four Asian American women are running," she said. "And that’s going to change the face of the Republican Party.”
Yet while the number of Asian American voters will grow, many will remain undecided over the short term, Levy said.
“You still have large-scale immigration, so as you continue to kind of fuel this pool of new potential voters and new residents who are just beginning to navigate the U.S. political system, you’re likely if anything to increase the percentage that’s uncommitted in the short run,” he said.