“Asian-spotting” the GOP convention: Elephants aplenty, but do Asian Americans show up?

Are you watching the Republican National Convention? Or does the sight of Chris Christie make you want to go on a diet from politics?

I’ve covered my share of GOP conventions and have been scarred by having witnessed such diversity moments as the O’Jays singing “Love Train” as an homage to compassionate conservative George W. Bush (Philadelphia, 2000).

And then there’s my favorite alienating moment from past political confabs: Republican dowager Phyllis Schlafly, in a sequined star-spangled cowgirl get-up, being fawned upon by “Up with People” and its mostly white youth brigade (Houston, 1992).

This year, when Dick Cheney said he wasn’t going to Tampa, I was deeply disappointed and felt deprived of an image that really sums up the modern GOP. Did Republican leaders conclude they’d be better off without the sight of the aging hawk wheeling in his oxygen canister onto the platform?

So for me, I’ll be watching the GOP convention from the reddest part of the bluest state (California), and engaging in some political Asian-spotting. How many times, if any, will Asian Americans be seen or talked about?

I’d put the over/under at 10. And that’s being liberal about things. (Repeated shots of Gov. Bobby Jindal, Gov. Nikki Haley, and former Labor Sec’y Elaine Chao don’t count.) If you spot an Asian American, or hear any talk of an Asian American issue during your viewing of the convention, please add them to the comments on this site.

While Democrats have had a stranglehold on Asian American voters in the past, this year because of key issues like health care, Asian Americans seem to be playing hard to get. Chinese American and Filipino American voters were undecided from 24 to 28 percent of the time in a recent Field Poll on Californians and health care.

Could it mean we’d like to be courted just a little more in exchange for our votes?

Just to make sure Asian Americans and our issues aren’t totally ignored, Christine Chen of APIAVote is with a small team mobilized to build awareness at both conventions.

Before she left for Tampa, I caught up with Chen at the V3 bloggers conference this past weekend in Los Angeles. She said APIAVote’s goal is to put pressure on the Republicans, which in turn should put pressure on the Democrats the following week, to make sure APIA voters aren’t taken for granted.

What makes Asian Americans more alluring this year to both parties is the high number of undecided voters in the so-called key battleground states, most particularly Nevada and Virginia.

Chen puts the undecided number at 31 percent in both states.

How does she know? It’s all due to polling data that oversamples for Asian American and Pacific Islander voters.

In a race where Obama is just slightly ahead of Romney, divvying up 31 percent of undecided Asian Americans could help either candidate build a victorious edge. That is, if either Obama or Romney sees any real value in Asian Americans in the first place.

Chen sees mainstream politicians as slowly being forced to turn their attention to us. She’s encouraged that more than 600 cities and municipalities in the U.S. now have Asian American populations greater than 5 percent.

“We can’t be ignored any longer,” Chen told me.

But she acknowledged, we still can be ignored if that other piece of the political equation–general mainstream polling–insists on being fundamentally non-inclusive.

Rarely, if ever, do mainstream polls sample enough Asian Americans to make a difference.

Of course, Asian Americans share a lot of blame for being a community without much political buzz. Most of us aren’t even registered to vote. But being left out of polls is more significant than we all think.

Look what happened last week. When The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll issued its nationwide results, a big deal was made that Romney had zero black support.

How can that be? Doesn’t former GOP official Michael Steele, an African American, count as the reality check for diversity-challenged polls?

The NBC poll actually came up with enough blacks to be statistically correct. Same can’t be said for Asian Americans. For our inclusion in politics, pollsters can help us by doing more oversampling as a matter of course.

Chen’s group has been able to raise enough money to dig deep and poll the broader APIA community this year. When its poll came out in May, it was the first time Asian Americans were mentioned in the 2012 campaign, Chen said. Still, that’s better than last year, when Chen said Asian Americans were shut out in coverage.

Traditionally, multilingual exit polls, such as the 2008 election day poll done by AALDEF, provide a reliable snapshot of how Asian Americans actually voted. General phone surveys prior to election day are prone to sampling non-voters, who can be undecided or change their mind.

Other polls that oversample Asian Americans are coming out in the next month, including more from The Field Poll and from UC Riverside/Berkeley. Until then, checking out both the GOP and DNC conventions may be the sobering experience that lets us know just how invisible we are.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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