Asians emerge as swing voters in White House race

by P. Parameswaran Tue Feb 19, 10:37 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Asians have become a critical swing voter bloc in the US presidential election race, with rival parties courting them ahead of another intense White House contest.

“If this is a close election, then the ways in which the Asian-American vote swings could have a very decisive impact,” said Don Nakanishi, director of the Asian-American studies center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The top five states where Asian-Americans reside are California, New York, Texas, Hawaii and New Jersey, and all, with the exception of Hawaii, are “very, very significant” in the presidential elections because of the high number of electoral votes each carries, Nakanishi said.

Despite their significance, the voting power of Asian-Americans has been much less scrutinized than that of African-Americans and Hispanics, the country’s other leading minority groups, said The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress.

Studies have shown that Asians tend to vote mostly for the Democratic party, in which Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in a neck-and-neck battle to be party flagbearer for the presidential race.

A rapidly growing group, there are now 14 million Asian-Americans in the United States, making up five percent of the total population. Their number is expected to nearly triple in 2050 to 41 million, government figures show.

Some seven million Asian-Americans are eligible to vote, and close to 3.5 million have registered to vote in the presidential election.

The power of the Asian-American vote is overlooked, said Democratic lawmaker Mike Honda, chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

“It is time that due attention is paid to this rapidly growing and politically relevant community,” he said.

Honda led several lawmakers in lobbying for more US media coverage of the Asia-Pacific vote in the elections, saying they were “deeply concerned” about what they saw as lack of press coverage.

This, they pointed out, “unfairly suppresses a growing and significant political constituency.”

In the California Democratic nomination battle earlier this month, about 75 percent of Asian voters cast their ballots for Clinton compared to 23 percent for Obama, according to reports.

That’s almost as high as the percentage of the black vote of 78 percent that went for Obama.

But in the run-up to the fight, Obama had narrowed Clinton’s lead to such an extent that the Asian vote suddenly became pivotal, the reports said.

With the solid backing from Asians, Clinton carried 54 percent of the Democratic electorate in California, leading Obama by 14 percent in the state and significantly increasing her electoral votes.

The Asian-American community is also poised to play significant roles in contests in Wisconsin, Hawaii, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

As the race intensifies, campaigners for Clinton and Obama as well as those for the presumptive Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain are casting their eyes on Asian-American voters.

McCain is quite popular among Asian-Americans attracted by his immigration reforms and bipartisanship.

Clinton has strong ties with Indian-Americans, cultivated way back when her husband Bill Clinton was president. She had once joked at a fundraising event that she was “delighted to be the senator from Punjab.”

But she was attacked by the Obama campaign, which cited the Punjab joke and her ties to companies which have outsourced US jobs to India.

Following criticism from some Indian-American lobby groups, the Obama campaign expressed regret and asserted that he was a “longtime friend” of the Indian-American community.

Obama’s ties to the Asian-American community are also deep.

He had once lived in Indonesia and Hawaii and his half-sister is half Indonesian.

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