Over winter break, I binged the recent season of “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” on Netflix. In one episode, “Don’t Ignore the Asian Vote in 2020,” Minhaj sat down with presidential candidates to discuss why Asian Americans — despite being one of the fastest-growing racial populations — are severely underrepresented in politics. During the 2018 midterms, Asian Americans made up only 3 percent of the electorate. However, Asian Americans make up 10 percent of the electorate in competitive swing states like Nevada and Virginia, and they are expected to make up 5 percent of the 2020 electorate. This will likely have a lot of influence in the 2020 elections, especially with the currently crowded Democratic primary field. 

The historical lack of outreach to Asian Americans has contributed to low voter registration and turnout. Andrew Yang, entrepreneur and presidential candidate, admits the problem is that politicians didn’t reach out to Asian Americans. According to a 2018 Asian American Voter Survey by the AAPI Data, the majority of Asian Americans had little to no contact from Democrats or Republicans. This includes community organizations and individual candidates. The reality of a majority-white party that depends mostly on voters of color, yet lacks the resolution to reach out to these communities, has become clear. Candidates like Yang and former candidates like Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, encourage the public to engage in politics by showing that Asians and people of color can be political leaders as well.

The overall underrepresentation of people of color in politics was clear on the all-white Democratic debate stage in January. A once diverse primary field has shrunk down to only three non-white Democratic candidates. Even Yang, who has been consistently polling within the top seven candidates and raised over $15 million during the third quarter, didn’t make the cut for the debate. The solution, though, isn’t necessarily having more candidates and politicians of color. The problem itself, as explained by Eugene Scott from The Washington Post, is that most of the issues “discussed at the debate — including health care, the economy and the environment — are race-related.” And yet, people of color, especially Asian Americans, are left out of the conversation. These issues concern and most significantly affect people of color, compared to white Americans, but candidates fail to show devotion to getting these communities involved. 

In his episode, Minhaj interviews Asians in New York City, and they voice their concerns related to “immigration, student loans and small business.” Having grown up in NYC, I have seen first hand that Asian-owned businesses dominate the city, from cafes to restaurants to salons. The Census Bureau reported that “between 2007 and 2012, the number of U.S. businesses owned by Asian-Americans rose 23.8 percent.” This growth is 10 times more than that of all United States firms over the same period. Asians will arguably benefit the most from a strong economy and, as a growing voting block, can influence economic policies. This can be seen in the 2018 midterm elections, a year where immigration was — and currently is — a widely debated topic. The voter turnout rates for both U.S.-born and naturalized Asians, the second-largest immigrant group, were up by more than 10 percent compared to 2014.

Asian American voter turnout rates have always lagged behind those of other racial groups. It is estimated that about 3 in 10 eligible Asian voters cast ballots in 2018 despite there being a whopping nine million eligible voters. However, today’s second-generation Asians, like Andrew Yang, are getting involved in politics and the younger Asian American generations are becoming eligible to vote. Hopefully, we can encourage Asian participation in politics and remind politicians that we are part of the conversation as well. As a Democratic-leaning block, the Asian American vote definitely isn’t one to be ignored in the Democratic primaries and the upcoming election.

I recently had the chance to listen to Edie Goldenberg, professor of political science and public policy at the University of Michigan. In 2017, she helped start the Big Ten Voting Challenge, a non-partisan initiative dedicated to increasing voter registration and turnout among college students across college campuses. At the University, Goldenberg started the student group, Turn Up Turnout (TUT), to increase voter registration and turnout among all communities on campus. The Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning is spearheading the efforts through student-driven tabling at campus-wide events and orientation, panel discussions, workshops and social media campaigns. 

As younger generations begin to outvote older generations, we as young voters need to start addressing the problems of underrepresentation and involvement in politics not only among Asians, but other racial groups. We can start by registering to vote and reaching out to all of our communities, starting with our peers. We can get involved and volunteer with TUT, or do our own part by registering to vote before the democratic primaries.

Jenny Gurung can be reached at jennygrg@umich.edu.

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