It seems obvious that greater electoral numbers for AAPIs should yield concomitant greater political power for our community. America is a representative democracy, wherein constituents are promised a seat at the table by a simple sociopolitical contract: our votes are offered to politicians as a quid pro quo promise of beneficial policy changes. More votes might therefore be assumed to invite better policies. Indeed, some AAPI groups – most notably 80-20 — deploy such thinking as rationale for their mission to create a national AAPI voting bloc comprising 80% or more of all voting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; the group’s leaders seek to leverage that bloc for or against specific candidates.
But what if this thinking is flawed; or, at least, incomplete? What if sheer voting numbers do not alone guarantee greater political power for voters on the fringes of American politics? How do AAPI voters, and other voters of colour, build political power when we must cast our votes in a system structurally resistant to prioritizing issues of race and racism?
Hillary Clinton advanced one step closer to the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday when she faced off against challenger Bernie Sanders in New York State’s primary race — a major prize in the contest for delegate numbers — and emerged victorious. This race was of particular interest to the AAPI community given that New York City boasts the largest single concentration of Asian Americans of any US city: NYC is home to roughly 1 million adult Asian American citizens who represent ~12% of the city’s residents.
Although structural obstacles continue to stymie Asian American voter turnout, roughly 20,000 Asian American voters turned out in New York City on Tuesday to cast a ballot in the Democratic or Republican primary races. Based on New York Times’ exit polling, Asian Americans were 2% of voters who turned out on Tuesday, up from ~1% in 2008.
Too often, mainstream exit pollsters fail to collect a large enough sample of Asian American or Pacific Islander voters to reveal our community’s voting trends. Thankfully, however, the AAPI community has routinely stepped up to meet that challenge.
In addition to briefs filed by the Asian American Legal Defense Fund (AALDEF) and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), the brief filed by Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) was signed by over 160 national AANHPI groups and individuals, including by this blog. Other signatories hail from all parts of the AANHPI diaspora, in terms of ethnicity, gender and group focus.
Thus, last night’s election results not only speak to the general attitude of all voters, but can also be used to assess the attitudes of the Asian American voter within the larger political landscape of the American voter. And, looking at the results, we see some pretty interesting trends.