Asian Americans help put Obama over the top

Another demographic challenge for the GOP

Latitude News staff By Latitude News staff

President Obama poses with Asian-American members of Congress, including former US Rep., now Senator, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii (left) and Rep. Judy Chu of California. (Reuters)

This year’s post-election media coverage has been all about demographics; specifically, the growing influence of Latino voters on races at the local, state and national level. But while they are less numerous than Hispanics, Asian Americans — just 5.8 percent of the population — are now the fastest growing immigrant group in the U.S. And like Hispanics in 2012, Asian Americans overwhelmingly went for President Obama over his challenger Mitt Romney.

  • Asian Week reports that 72 percent of Asian American voters cast their ballots for Obama while only 26 percent voted for Romney. Similarly, 73 percent of Asian Americans chose Democratic candidates for Congress while 27 percent picked Republicans. That happened even though only 41 percent identify as Democrats. “Mitt Romney had room to win the overlooked Asian-American community,” said Lisa Hasegawa, director of the organization that conducted the poll. “While Barack Obama’s narrative attracted Asian American voters, Mitt Romney missed an enormous opportunity to offer a direct appeal to this group.” Like other voters, the economy was the most important issue for Asian Americans, a seeming advantage for Romney that the GOP could not exploit this year. One possible reason: many Asian Americans supported Obamacare. It’s not a permanent shift, though. Some Asian-Americans tend to be socially conservative. Whichever party proves itself the best steward of the economy in the next few years will likely reap the electoral benefit.
  • This year’s election also proved important for Asian-American candidates, reports another story from Asian Week. In Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, a Democrat, became the first ever Japanese American elected to the Senate. Hirono is also the second woman of color elected to that body, as well as the first Buddhist. Joining her are three Asian-American women making their debut in Congress: Grace Meng (NY), Tulsi Gabbard (HI), Tammy Duckworth (IL), a veteran who lost her legs in the Iraq War, as well as Mark Takano (CA), the first openly gay Asian-American member of Congress. Gabbard, America’s first Hindu Congressperson, is set to make history in another way: she’ll take her oath of office with her hand over a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred text of Hinduism.
  • Finally, the website New American Media contrasts the success of Asian-American candidates with the “China bashing” that was a prominent aspect of the 2012 campaign. Both presidential candidates threatened to embark on a trade war with China in a bid to preserve American jobs, although Mitt Romney went further than President Obama, saying he would label China a “currency manipulator” on his first day in office. In New York (which elected Meng, its first-ever Asian-American member of Congress) and California (where 15 out of 35 Asian-American candidates for local or national office were victorious) that didn’t present much of a problem. But in less diverse areas like the South or Midwest, Asian-Americans face a more difficult struggle seeking public office. Even so, says Harvey Deng, a professor at Berkeley, things are looking better for Asian-American politicians than ever before. “We are going forward toward a more pluralistic society,” he says. “The China bashing, the ethnic bashing … it won’t pay off.”