Opinion

California politics must accommodate growing share of Asian-American voters

A campaign volunteer for Democrat Gil Cisneros organizes flyers for Cisneros’ effort to mobilize and turn out Asian American voters in the California’s 39th District, a congressional district with a large Latino population  on Oct. 28.
A campaign volunteer for Democrat Gil Cisneros organizes flyers for Cisneros’ effort to mobilize and turn out Asian American voters in the California’s 39th District, a congressional district with a large Latino population on Oct. 28. Los Angeles Times/TNS

A long-overlooked constituency in California politics likely helped deliver Democratic victories this week in the Republican strongholds of Orange and San Diego counties.

Asian Americans, the fastest-growing racial group in California, account for one in every seven votes in the state, showing up at polls at higher rates than Latinos.

The group has made up the largest share of immigrants in the state for more than a decade, and now accounts for about one in six Californians, with the highest concentrations in the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California.

Opinion


Political parties and community organizations have been slow to react to the ethnic group’s growth. In 2016, only 31 percent of registered Asian-American voters reported political parties had contacted them, and just 23 percent reported being contacted by community organizations regarding the election.

That’s starting to change. In 2018, 55 percent said political parties had contacted them and 49 percent reported contact by community organizations.

Karthik.jpg
Karthick Ramakrishnan

Still, more needs to be done. News coverage of the group should increase. Stories on the “immigrant vote” especially should feature Asian Americans.

Parties and campaigns should hire bilingual outreach workers. They should ramp up advertising in traditional and new media targeting the group. Surveys of Asian-American voters show media outreach needs to incorporate not only advertising in ethnic newspapers, but also ethnic radio and on ethnic social media.

State and local leaders recognize the economic importance of Asian Americans, including small business owners, high-skilled workers, tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Asian Americans have made headway in the entertainment industry, with big box office hits like “Crazy Rich Asians” and hit shows from “Fresh Off the Boat” to “The Mindy Project” and “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj.”

California’s leaders recognize that the state’s Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander populations face financial hardship, health and immigration challenges that belie the “crazy rich Asians” stereotypes.

But the political importance of Asian Americans has been slower in coming, despite the group’s ability to sway many of the ballot propositions, state legislative races and local races that are often decided by a few percentage points.

When all the dust settles from late ballots in Orange and San Diego counties, most will recognize that Asian-American voters were key to making formerly solidly Republican districts much more politically competitive.

Hopefully, this will prove to national and state political parties the value of Asian-American voters and increase the kinds of investments that Democrats and Republicans alike make in ensuring robust participation among the state’s fastest growing racial group.

Karthick Ramakrishnan is professor of public policy and political science at the University of California, Riverside, founding director of the Center for Social Innovation and a participant in The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy Influencers series. He can be contacted at karthick@ucr.edu.

STAY IN THE DEBATE

The Sacramento Bee editorial board tackles the day’s biggest issues seven days a week, 365 days a year to keep you informed about California policy and politics.
We're a one-stop shop for timely, relevant viewpoints from elected officials and advocates on water, healthcare and housing and more.
Want to stay in the conversation? Support this forum for voices from across the state with a digital subscription to The Sacramento Bee.


  Comments