So Now Republicans Wonder What Happened to the Asian Vote?

4 years ago

Don’t make me say I told you so.

In Mandarin Chinese, there is a phrase, wo gei ni shuo. Literally translated, it means, “Let me tell you…” But it also implies that you should pull up a chair, because what I have to say is going to take a few minutes, and you better listen, because there I've got some opinions and advice to give you.

Asian Americans were a prime voting bloc during the 2012 elections, with large numbers of young, first-time and undecided voters. I wrote about it last summer, as did PBS and MSNBC. Some even speculated that Asian voters were the Republicans’ to lose.

Nov. 6, 2012 - Denver, Colorado, U.S. - A poll worker at Berkeley Park Recreation Center hands out ''I Voted'' stickers to voters droping off their ballots. (Credit Image: © Michael Rieger/

But the GOP political strategists didn’t seem to listen. Neither President Obama nor Governor Mitt Romney showed up at a Town Hall meeting organized by APIA Vote. Instead, Obama sent Rep. Mike Honda, a longtime advocate for the Asian American community, while Romney sent former Rep. Tom Davis.

As the post-election quarterbacking heads into its second month, pundits are now turning their gaze on this forgotten group, wondering, if Asians are so good at math, why didn’t they vote Republican? The fact is that 73% of Asian Americans cast their ballots for Obama – that’s a higher percentage of Democratic support than even the coveted Latino bloc.

David Brooks started opining in the New York Times just a few days after the election, wondering how the “party of work” lost Asian Americans. Because, you know… they are such hard workers.

Over at Slate Richard A. Posner performs the post-mortem. And conservatives are getting in the game, too. The American Conservative is pondering the “loss” of the Asian American Vote. And the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute asks Why Aren't Asians Republicans?.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good thing that the media is paying attention to the political power of Asian Americans, even if it is after the elections.

But all the discussion about Asian voters seems to neglect… Asians. As one white male after another opines about why Asian Americans voted the way they did, where are the voices of Chinese, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese and Filipino Americans? Sure, Slate quotes the Pew Research Center report from last summer (that Asian American groups criticized for reinforcing the old “model minority” stereotype and overlooking many current needs and issues) and then even brings up the “new Jews” comparison.

What all these writers seem to have forgotten is that we are still in the room. And we even speak English.

So, as an Asian American woman let me tell you something… to understand how the Asians vote, you need to get to know some Asians. We are Vietnamese, Indian, Thai, Filipino, Japanese, Pakistani, Laotian, and more. We are not all engineers and entrepreneurs, but also lawyers, parents, nurses and artists. Some of us are newly immigrated (with or without documentation) and others are descendants of pioneers who built the railroads or were detained in World War II internment camps.

We’re concerned about the economy and education. Such as the imminent Supreme Court ruling on race-based admissions criteria to universities. And whether states, such as Virginia, can apply different standards to Asian kids than to students of other races.

Asian Americans have the highest rates of education—and the highest rates of long-term unemployment. Not to mention underemployment.

We’re concerned because Asian children experience the highest rates of bullying.

Asian American women have some of the highest rates of untreated mental illness and suicide.

And could it be that all the anti-China rhetoric hurt the Republican's chances with Asian voters? Romney repeatedly used the term “cheating China” during the presidential debates, and his portrayal of the Asian nation as an economic predator goes all the back to the primary campaign trail, such as when he dismissed a middle-aged Chinese American woman who spoke up at a New Hampshire event, calling him on his derogatory language. And no, it’s not even appealing when politicians call us out as the good minorities, as opposed to those other kind who are clamoring for their entitlements and other free stuff from the government.

But we are boot strappers and do-it-yourselfers. So even if Washington isn’t paying attention to our issues, we’ll go to Capitol Hill ourselves. A record number of Asian Americans ran – and won—down-ballot races, making for a historic high representations for Asians in Congress come January 2013.

So there, I told you. Are you listening?

News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.

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