Asian-Americans Are The New Florida

Asian-Americans may vote for Democrats now, but they are a highly persuadable—and growing—part of the electorate.

01.08.15 10:45 AM ET

Listen up, Republican and Democratic parties: Asian-Americans represent a huge opportunity for both of you—they’re expected to double from the current population of seventeen million by 2060—so you better start recruiting. Now.

And they might not have to wait that long to show their political heft.

Asian-American voters may find new political relevance in the race to replace former Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York, who resigned this week after pleading guilty to tax evasion. The Staten Island, N.Y. district is 12 percent Asian-American—a substantial part of the population—in what promises to be a tightly contested race.

It’s not like they don’t want to get involved: Asian-Americans have shown a willingness to participate in public activities—according to Pew, 44 percent of American-Asians have participated in civic engagement in the past year, compared to 38 percent of the general public.

But what makes Asian-Americans such a lucrative target for political strategists is that they’ve shown fluidity in terms of their political preferences.

They can be swayed from election to election. In 1992, Republican George H.W. Bush won the Asian-American vote by 24 points. By 2012, Democratic President Barack Obama owned the Asian-American vote, winning it by 47 percentage points.

"Democrats just assume that Asian-Americans will turn up at the polls, and vote Democrat," said Dr. Michelle Diggles, author of a new Third Way study on Asian-American political participation. "There are very real serious ramifications for the assumption that demographics are destiny for the Democratic Party. If you don't do outreach, if you don't target, if you don't talk about the issues that they care about, they'll stay home."

Taken as a whole, Asian-Americans are the fastest growing group in the United States—but thus far the least engaged in the voting process, making them a group ripe for the political picking. Just 47 percent of Asian-Americans voted in the 2012 presidential election. That’s  a lower proportion than African American voters (66 percent), white voters (64 percent) and Hispanic voters (48 percent).

But political parties haven’t stepped up, according to the new report from centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, which holds that Asian-Americans just haven't been brought into the American political fold.

Neither the Republican nor the Democratic party have done anything to consistently target Asian- American voters. The Third Way study points out that a mere 31 percent of Asian-Americans reported being contacted by a campaign during the 2012 cycle, compared to 53 percent all American voters.

This is in part due to logistics. The vast diversity within the Asian-American community in terms of both language and culture makes it difficult for politicians and political figures to connect. In order to  conduct an accurate poll of Asian-Americans, Diggles said that a polling firm would need to use at least six languages.

"By and large, the main strategists and consultants have not targeted Asian-Americans as a group," she said, due in part to the logistical challenges of doing so.

But  Republican and Democratic parties have made efforts to reverse that trend. Both are attempting to aggressively recruit candidates in the Asian-American community, and exit polling showed Republicans and Democrats virtually tied among the voter group in the 2014 midterms.

Asian-Americans are a group of persuadable swing voters, growing faster than any other group in America today. Politicians better take notice.