Asian Americans Largely Ignored by Presidential Candidates, Political Scientists Say

By Lum, Lydia | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, May 29, 2008 | Go to article overview

Asian Americans Largely Ignored by Presidential Candidates, Political Scientists Say


Lum, Lydia, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Despite feverish efforts by presidential candidates to grab voters' attention, they, along with public opinion pollsters and mainstream news media, have largely ignored Asian Americans so far, several political scientists say.

"It's kind of annoying," says Dr. Andrew Aoki, associate professor of political science at Augsburg College. "It gives Asian Americans a feeling of being overlooked."

It's possible the candidates will improve their outreach as the November election nears, but Aoki and other scholars aren't sure whether it would be noticed much.

"You rarely see an acknowledgement of Asians in national campaigns," says Dr. Natalie Masuoka, an assistant professor of political science at Tufts University.

Multiple, complex reasons have resulted in the near-invisibility of Asian Americans in the campaign, these scholars say.

Nationally, Asian Americans compose about 4 percent of the population. While they are most numerous in states such as Hawaii and California, their ranks are rapidly growing in Nevada, Oregon, Minnesota, New Jersey and elsewhere. Yet this growth across many states, rather than just one or two, leads to perceptions that they don't form enough of a voting bloc in each state to justify a candidate's time.

After all, a presidential election is based on winning the majority of votes in each state, not necessarily the popular vote nationally.

Furthermore, it's tough to convince candidates that Asians will even bother to cast ballots when considering their turnout during the 2004 election, says Dr. Karthick Ramakrishnan, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside. He cites the Current Population Survey, which shows that only 55 percent of Asian Americans voted in that election, versus 72 percent of Blacks and 74 percent of Whites. Among Hispanics, only 55 percent voted in 2004, but Hispanics outnumber Asians in the general population by more than 3-to-1, so politicians have a bigger pool of potential supporters in them. Ironically, surveys indicate that Asians generally earn higher incomes and reach higher levels of educational attainment than other racial demographics, Ramakrishnan says. These characteristics would typically make them high-propensity voters.

Voter turnout among Asians is low partly because so little campaign outreach targets them, Ramakrishnan says, describing it as an example of the proverbial chicken-egg syndrome.

Language diversity remains a challenge too. Unlike U.S. Hispanics who overwhelmingly share Spanish as a commonality, Asian Americans have languages and dialects as different and distinct as Vietnamese, Korean and Mandarin--to name only a few.

"Add it together and candidates don't believe it's cost-effective to target Asians," Ramakrishnan says. "Asians don't have extensive voting histories, so a candidate has no information to start with. …

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