Asians could be swing vote in November polls
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By Rodney J. Jaleco
WASHINGTON D.C. Asian Americans must go beyond being the “model minority” President Obama said at a gala to help mark Asian Pacific American Heritage Month even as some groups complain that Asian Americans have been neglected by political leaders.
"It's a community that's helped make America the country it is today," Obama said in Washington at an awards gala hosted by the Asian Pacific American Institute for American Studies. "In all of your families, you have stories of perseverance that are uniquely American."
This was the first time since 20005 that the President had accepted an invitation from a major Asian American group. And it came after a survey revealed that Asian American voters could play the role of spoilers in the November elections because they are largely untapped by both major political parties.
"Presidential candidates and political parties ignore Asian American voters at their own peril," said pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners which conducted the survey time to coincide with the celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month..
Obama said "We first have to stop grouping everybody just in one big category."
"Dozens of different communities fall under the umbrella of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. And we have to respect that the experiences of immigrant groups are distinct and different, and your concerns run the gamut. That's something Washington needs to understand better."
The President stressed that his administration has strived to do that, in part by reestablishing the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“We were disappointed he is in his fourth year and hasn’t shown up at any of our events,” said Tom Hayashi, executive director of OCA, formerly known as the Organization of Chinese Americans.
“We are still seen as a fairly invisible segment of the population, and so we’re beyond being polite. If he or his administration feels this is a check-mark moment, that would be a really sad thing,” he rued.
“We would like this to be the beginning of a new chapter of him being directly engaged with our community,” Hayashi added.
The Asian population has grown by nearly 50 percent the past 10 years to about 15 million.
But only 12 out of 535 members of the US Congress are Asian Americans according to a head count of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) headed by California Rep. Judy Chu.
Of CAPAC’s Asian members, few have made a name for themselves outside Congress or their home states. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a Japanese-American who famously lost his right arm while fighting during World War II, is a legend in the Aloha State and wields enormous power as Appropriations Committee chairman. But at 87, he rarely grants media interviews and is a relic of a more collegial era in the Senate.
The same goes for Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), also 87, who’s retiring at the end of this year after 35 years in the House and Senate.
"While Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders seem to prefer Democratic candidates, many don't really know the difference between Democrats and Republicans because they haven't been engaged by either party,” Ms Lake of Lake Research Partners said.
Of respondents who’ve already made their choice for the coming elections, President Obama was strongest among Indian-American voters, leading Romney by a margin of 76 to 8 percent in the poll, and weakest among Filipino Americans, where the vote was 57 percent to 20 percent.
Among Chinese Americans, it was 68 percent for Obama, 8 percent for Romney, the poll showed.
The survey showed more than 70 percent of Asian Americans have a favorable perception of President Barack Obama, but nearly one-third had no opinion of presumptive Republican Party presidential bet Mitt Romney.
“There's a real opportunity there to define the debate," Lake stressed.
And while Asian Americans like the president's persona, when it comes to Obama's job performance Asian Americans were split evenly 49 percent to 49 percent pro and con.
About 48 percent of eligible Asian Americans voted in 2008 compared with 44 percent in 2004 and because of relatively rapid population growth the percentage of the Asian vote is projected to rise from the 2 percent in 2008.
The survey indicated that Asian American voters are more excited about the 2012 election than the one in 2008. Of those surveyed, 83 percent said they were certain to use the ballot in November.
Exit polls in the 2008 elections showed Obama won Asian Americans with 62 percent to John McCain's 35 percent (Latino voters, who made up 9 percent of the national electorate, went for Obama by a 67-31 margin in 2008).
Yet the surveys showed the Asian American vote has been largely ignored by both Democrats and Republicans.
Less than 3 out of 10 voters were contacted by the Democratic Party over the past 2 years compared to 4 in 10 by the GOP.
"Taking these voters for granted in the short-run will have a big impact in the long-run because they're on a fast rise and they're very loyal," said Asian American Justice Center president Mee Moua.