Politics: Targeting the AAPI Vote for the 2012 Presidential Election

by Guest Contributor Erin Pangilinan, originally published at Hyphen

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are the fastest growing racial group in the United States, making AAPI voters a force to be reckoned with as a key constituency group for the 2012 presidential election. The Obama For America (OFA) campaign is attempting to capture the attention of ethnic voting blocs in various states.

Unfortunately only 48 percent of AAPIs turned out to vote in 2008, making them the lowest registered group, compared to 62 percent of all Americans. Only half of eligible AAPIs are registered to vote, making AAPIs the lowest racial or ethnic group recorded. OFA can still remain optimistic though, since 81 percent of first-time AAPI voters voted for President Obama.

While mainstream news outlets focused on AAPI Silicon Valley entrepreneurs as flashy campaign donors in the already blue state of California, what’s really at stake for many is outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. AAPI populations can make a big difference in battleground states throughout the country, especially Nevada.

Holding six electoral votes, Nevada is a key swing state to win the presidential election. Nevada is home to the nation’s fastest growing AAPI population. AAPI and Latino voters were the margin of swing victory in U.S. Senator Harry Reid’s run for re-election in Nevada during the 2010 mid-term elections.

Filipino Americans are the second largest ethnic group in Nevada alone, and make up 4 percent of the state’s population at 98,000 — 86,000 of whom reside in Clark County. Tagalog will be the third language, aside from English and Spanish, to be used in election materials in Clark County. OFA has a clear investment in AAPI communities, with a total of seven field offices in Las Vegas alone, which is located in Clark County.

Some speculate that because of poor voter turnout during the previous mid-term elections, as well as a likely loss of white swing independent voters supporting Obama, OFA will attempt to recapture base voters, particularly communities of color.

Toward the end of last year, OFA launched Operation Vote, a voter engagement and outreach program intended to expand support from ethnic groups. Operation Vote focuses on constituency groups for Obama, ranging from African Americans, women, to veterans, environmentalists, and most recently — Obama Pride — or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Americans for Obama.

Last month, OFA launched Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) for Obama. OFA is clearly making an effort to reach the largest of AAPI ethnic groups, with some campaign materials translated in languages such as Chinese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

AAPIs support Obama by a nearly five to one margin, ten to one among Indian Americans, and three to one among Korean Americans.

While various polls have come out recently focusing on the AAPI community’s preferences regarding political parties, there is still no substitute for having voters identify with staff and volunteers who share the same face, experience, and language, making voters more likely to vote for the candidate whose campaign actively reaches out to them.

Filipino American labor organizer and attorney, Mario Salazar, started off as a Deputy Field Organizer for OFA in Pennsylvania in 2008. Mario was recently promoted to Director of Nevada’s Operation Vote, a position vital to help win battleground states for the 2012 presidential election.

Mario’s presence in the campaign, like that of like other AAPI staff at OFA pictured in the video above, shows that OFA values inclusion and diversity on staff across various departments. But it’s less about marketing to a constituency group, and really about showing how AAPIs are a part of a larger family.

Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama’s Asian American sister, and her husband Konrad Ng, are Obama campaign veterans, and currently are campaigning on their brother’s behalf, something Obama wasn’t shy about addressing at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) annual gala address.

Mai Uy, an OFA Nevada volunteer, noted, “His sister is half Asian, so when he talks about the AAPI community, he’s talking about us as family.”

But this won’t be an easy fight–2012 won’t be without its challenges for online and field organizers for the campaign.

There’s still a large segment of the AAPI community that is not registered to vote (taking into account that there is still a large number of immigrant voters who have not yet naturalized and can become eligible to vote in this election). Research shows that naturalized immigrants, when registered, vote at higher rates than the native-born.

Another challenge OFA will take on is harnessing online activity (use of apps and social media) and translating it into field work– meaning registering people to vote, getting AAPI communities to mail their absentee ballots, and increasing turnout to the polls in November.

OFA has the most sophisticated data and metrics-driven programs that even the D.C. Beltway has ever seen, and it will still take some work to capture the vast AAPI community online. Fortunately, according to the Pew Research Center, English-speaking AAPIs’ civic engagement is among the highest of all racial groups on mobile and the Internet. But how this looks when disaggregated by ethnic groups and in native Asian languages can get super technical.

The energy from the 2008 campaign may not be the same. The average Joe or Jane may not be creating their own “Barack the Vote” shirts to wear at the next hot party, or playing Obamagirl YouTube videos with their friends just yet, but a strong passion for volunteerism and getting involved in community through the campaign remains.

Mai Uy, a single mother and nurse, started volunteering for OFA, and after one meeting has dedicated more and more time to organizing her community, while also coordinating phonebanks in Las Vegas. “For me, I have seen President Obama take a real stand on issues that mean the most to me. … Because of the Affordable Care Act, my daughter can stay on my healthcare insurance plan and my friend’s children can stay on theirs– a point I bring up with my friends all the time. As of now, I haven’t met that many AAPIs in my community who are engaged in the election, but I’m hoping to change that. That’s why I organize; this is my way of helping hundreds and thousands have their voices heard. I believe President Obama has stood for our communities; it’s time we stand united with him.”

Volunteers like Uy hope to contribute to making history a second time in November to land Obama a second presidential term.

We shall see what color Nevada will be on November 6.

Note: The Romney campaign was contacted to interview for this article. We await a response and hope to feature them in a future article.

Full disclosure: Erin Pangilinan is a Filipina For Obama. She was involved in Filipinos For Obama in 2008.


Bio: Erin is a prolific writer and has worked as a Philippine News Correspondent for over six years and as a Change.org Immigrant Rights Cause blogger. She is excited to join the Hyphen magazine staff, contributing to the Politics section, of which this is her first contribution. Read more work from Erin at erinjerri.com

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  • NK4

    Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are not a group. If you want to speak about your own community you can do it without presuming to speak for people who have nothing to do with you.

  • LK

    I’m glad that Asian Americans are getting more political visibility but please don’t do it at the expense of accurate statistics abut Pacific Islanders, who are a totally different and far less represented pan-ethnic, pan-national group than Asian Americans. It took a long fight to finally disaggregate the census category, and there is no such thing as an “AAPI” racial or ethnic group and little evidence of a political coalition. The 48 % non-voting statistic you reference is about Asian Americans. The PI stats might be better or worse, but from this we’d have know way to know.