For the GOP, election night on Tuesday was like a political version of Hurricane
It left a Romney-led party trounced and bewildered, staring at a brand new
landscape it had failed to prepare for —
a totally new American electorate, rich in diversity and growing in number.
Politics isn’t just a game for white men anymore.
On Tuesday, white voters were at their lowest point ever, shrinking to just 72
percent of the electorate.
The minority vote? About 28 percent of the electorate.
But with African Americans at 13 percent of that number, and Latinos at 10
percent, that’s where the mainstream media tends to drop the detail.
Filling in the rest of that 28 percent minority number? Asian Americans,
currently at around 3 to 4 percent, but growing.
So you may have heard about African Americans at 93 percent support for
President Obama, and Latinos at 71 percent.
But make no mistake, according to an AALDEF election eve poll of likely voters,
Asian Americans were part of the minority juggernaut behind Barack Obama, 72
percent vs. 26 percent for Romney.(See my take on the poll
And things are only going to get worse for the GOP if it sticks to its
Indeed, as far as the electorate goes, it’s Asian Americans, and not Latinos,
that are the fastest growing group in the last 16 years—a 128 percent increase
That number should grow even faster now that Asian Americans have routinely
surpassed Latinos in annual immigration totals since 2008.
Remember that Pew survey
earlier this year? Rightfully, the community criticized it for perpetuating the
“model minority” stereotype. But the survey did bring out some basic facts:
Asian Americans are the highest income, best educated, fastest growing racial
group in the U.S.
And along with all that should come record participation levels and increasing
success in politics. It’s inevitable.
On Tuesday, we began to see the beginning of historic change. With Mazie
Hirono’s victory in Hawaii, we saw the ascent of the first Asian American woman
to the U.S. Senate.
With Grace Meng’s congressional victory in Flushing, we saw an Asian American
woman win one of the most diverse districts in New York.
But as the saying goes, “all politics is local,” and the diversity wave that
carried Obama to a massive blue state victory in California (59.1 percent to
Romney’s 38.6) didn’t necessarily help every Democrat.
There was no benefit to Jay Chen in California’s 39th congressional district.
The race was marred by xenophobic sentiment against Chen, who saw signs in his
district urging people to “Vote for the American.”
Chen, born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was undaunted, but ultimately was defeated by
veteran white conservative Ed Royce by nearly 20 points.
That race was a throwback to the old days where a “Whites Only” strategy was
typical. Maybe it will still work for small homogeneous congressional districts,
but as Romney found out, it doesn’t work in a wildly diverse national race.
Demographers have been heralding a seismic demographic shift for some time, with
the earliest stories on “minorities becoming the majority in 2050” showing up as
early as 1988.
I know. I did a few of them.
But even though politicians have recognized it (G.W. Bush seemed to embrace it
fully, winning 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004), the GOP has since lost
The GOP could learn a thing or two from that AALDEF election eve poll.
First, it should realize that immigration is more than just a Latino issue.
When it comes to comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for
undocumented immigrants, 57 percent of Asian Americans were in support.
Only 26 percent were opposed.
Second, it’s clear that people take politics personally, which means empathy
counts. The poll asked “would you say that Barack Obama is someone who truly
cares about the Asian American community, that he didn’t care too much about
Asian Americans, or that Obama was hostile toward Asian Americans?”
Of respondents, 47 percent thought Obama cared. Only 26 percent said he didn’t
care that much. Three percent said he was hostile.
The same was asked about Romney, and his numbers predicted his defeat. Only 14
percent said he truly cares. Forty-five percent said he didn’t care too much.
Seven percent, more than double the Obama number, said Romney was hostile.
The GOP needs to revive Bush’s “kinder, gentler” approach.
Showing empathy presumes you’ll reach out, and this is perhaps the biggest
failure of this election cycle. Asian Americans, despite being poised to make a
difference in a close presidential race, were virtually ignored, or taken for
granted by everyone.
The AALDEF poll asked: “Over the past few months, did anyone from a campaign,
political party, or community organization ask you to vote, or register to
Only 40 percent nationally said yes.
More than half of likely Asian American voters said no one reached out to them.
Maybe after this election, that will change. Indeed, the AALDEF poll indicates
there are potential segments within Asian America who could be swing voters “up
for grabs.” Already 29 percent say they’re independent, with another 16 percent
undecided or with a third party.
That’s 45 percent who say they aren’t beholden to any party.
There’s also potential Republicans to be gleaned from among Filipino Americans,
a group estimated at more than 3 million. Forty-two percent of them say they
think of themselves as “closer to Republicans.”
In the future, campaigns of any political stripe will have to look for voters
where they never looked before. They can’t afford to make Romney’s mistake of
mining sparsely populated areas with mostly white voters. That’s no longer a
So expect more campaigns to pay closer attention to us in the future, especially
if they include us in all their polling, or see data reconfirmed in polls like
the AALDEF election eve poll, over-sampled for Asians and in multiple Asian
languages. It would be hard to come away with any other conclusion: Asian
Americans are a much more significant part of the nation’s evolving, dynamic,
and diverse national electorate than anyone ever realized.
And the white part of the electorate? It’s shrinking.