A pair of Asian-American politicians rallied support on campus Monday for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, urging political participation by a minority group that has historically posted lower voter turnout rates than the general population.
U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, a California Democrat, and State Rep. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Romulus) spoke to a handful of students at the newly-opened Obama campaign office on Maynard Street about the relevance of Obama’s historic candidacy to minority groups. The two came to the office as a part of a daylong campaign tour of southeast Michigan, including a town hall meeting with a United Auto Workers group in Detroit and a phone banking event in Canton.
Both Honda and Hopgood said Obama’s campaign has had a discernable impact on their communities. Hopgood said the Illinois senator’s message of unity should appeal to Asian-Americans.
“This is absolutely an historic election. Let’s just say it: we have a minority candidate for the office of the President of United States of America,” Hopgood said. “While he’s followed his heritage and he speaks to minorities across the land, he speaks to all Americans as well.”
The two stressed the importance of voting among Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, groups that have voted at lower than average rates in recent elections.
According to the U.S. Census, just 29.8 percent of the Asian-American population voted in the 2004 elections, compared with 58.3 percent for the overall population. In the 2006 mideterm election, the numbers dropped to 21.8 percent and 43.6 percent, respectively.
Political Science Prof. Vincent Hutchings, an expert on race and politics, said the tendencies of these groups to sit out elections may stem from their social identities in America.
“Naturalized citizens and immigrants are unlikely to be participatory,” he said, adding that they might have been raised under different political systems and cultures that weren’t necessarily democratic.
Despite the low voting rates among Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, Honda said he believes the community is aware of the issues facing society.
“While they may not vote, they talk,” Honda said.
Brian Straw, the campus field organizer for the Obama campaign who introduced the speakers at the event, said he saw potential in the camp’s ability to turn out Asian-Americans next week.
“It’s not necessarily going to be likely voters that are the reason Obama wins, but it’s going to be a lot of those unlikely voters,” he said. “That’s why we’re doing this.”