The Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, population is the fastest-growing racial group in the country. In the swing state of Nevada, Asian voters currently make up about 10 percent of the electorate. Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray sits down with The Hill’s Senior Reporter Scott Wong to learn more about the political significance of this voting bloc.
Q: The Asian American and Pacific Islander population is growing in the U.S. What is the significance of this demographic politically?
Wong: Traditionally, we thought of the the AAPI community as focused in multiple states like California, Hawaii, maybe New York. Now we’re starting to see tremendous growth is some swing states like Virginia, like Nevada where we are today. The reason it matters is it could have an impact on the outcome of the election with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Although Hillary Clinton is leading in the polls right now, if things start to tighten we could see the Asian American vote really having an impact on who becomes president and who takes over the White House next year.
Q: Historically, has the Asian American vote impacted the outcome of an election?
Wong: In 2012 we did see in some states, like Virginia, where things were very tight; we did see Asian turnout have a slight impact. Now, in terms of the numbers, we haven’s seen Asian Americans turnout to vote in big of numbers as many, many Asian leaders would like. Part of that is a lot of Asian Americans are immigrants; there are still language barriers. They’re still trying to figure out the system. It’s just basic things: about how to keep a roof over their heads, and how to put their kids in the the best schools, and so the elections are not top of mind. I think you’re starting to see a shift in that mentality, people starting to engage more civically and take elections more seriously.
Q: The AAPI community don’t really turnout to vote in big numbers. Traditionally the group’s voter registration numbers are low, lagging behind other groups like Latinos and African Americans. How can they increase voter registration?
Wong: One of the main ways to get to people is through language by making voter resources available through different languages. I think that’s been one of the biggest barriers. When you think about some of the Latino communities, what many of them share is a common language—they speak Spanish—so it’s easier to reach some of those Latino communities through newspapers and through cable networks like Telemundo and Univision. The Asian community and the Asian immigrant community is more diverse. There are more languages spoken, Korean, Japanese, Chinese. I think we have seen more investments in language outreach in terms of getting people out to vote.
Q: Since there are more cultures within the AAPI community, how do they tend to vote? Is it as a monolithic group or is there diversity in their voting pattern?
Wong: Bill Clinton back when he was president and running for president in 1992, that Asian vote was really up for grabs. He did not have the majority of Asian voters back then. We have seen in the 20 years, since, a real shift. Asian Americans are moving more into the Democratic column. Recent polls have shown some of the divisive language from the Republican nominee Donald Trump,the Republican primary that we saw earlier this year, has turned-off some AAPI voters. We are starting to see big numbers starting to move. We see that in 2008 and 2012 with Barack Obama. He captured large numbers of Asian American voters. We’re starting to see that trend continue in terms of Hillary Clinton.
Q: Immigration has been a big issue during this presidential election cycle. With so many Asian people who are either immigrants or have family in other countries, do you think that issue drives more Asians to turnout to vote?
Wong: I think that’s correct. The anti-immigrant rhetoric from Donald Trump that we saw at the outset of his campaign—really day one—when he was talking about building a wall and calling Mexican immigrants rapists. That is something that even a year later, we’re still talking about and referring to about his campaign. That type of rhetoric when you look at the polls from APIAVote, which did a poll earlier this spring, some of that anti-immigrant rhetoric is really turning-off many voters in the Asian community and helping drive voters into that Democratic column.