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Asian American Voters Are A Powerful But Hard To Define Group

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Among eligible voters, they are the fastest-growing electorate in the United States. Asian Americans are socioeconomically diverse, generationally and politically divided and often ignored as a voting bloc. But they're finding ways to amplify their voices and solidify their political power, reports Hua Hsu, a staff writer for The New Yorker. And he joins us now from New York.

Welcome to the program.

HUA HSU: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we said, the Asian American vote is diverse. We're talking about people of Indian descent, also of Japanese descent - very different types of, you know, races and ethnicities.

HSU: Yeah, exactly. And I think for quite a while - you know, Asian Americans have been in this country for upwards of 200 years - the question was whether there was a single issue or a single orientation that could unite everyone under a sort of banner of political solidarity. I think that's increasingly difficult, although studies show that Asian American voters tend to value education, health care, gun control, things like that. What we're seeing is a lot of the parties are really organizing and sort of trying to go to where the voters are and trying to figure out new forms of outreach that are culturally and linguistically specific.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. I mean, you write that Asian Americans are the mythical undecided voter. You know, they are economically so diverse. You have some Asian American households that make very little and some that make quite a lot. So when you speak about trying to target specific segments within that population, how are they doing that?

HSU: You know, so one of the interesting things happening right now - and it's really the focus of the piece - is the growing influence of Asian Americans in the suburbs, particularly in the suburbs of swing districts, swing states. I think traditionally people associate Asian immigration with cities, you know, like Chinatown, Japantown, things like that. But, you know, the dream of Texas becoming a blue state, for example, is really borne out of immigrants from India and Pakistan - same goes with Georgia, North Carolina and Nevada, places where we're seeing the fastest growth in Asian immigration. So what a lot of the savvier candidates are doing are just sort of going into these communities and recognizing that a lot of these communities are already organized amongst themselves, whether it's by cultural associations, temples, mosques, churches, and really trying to speak to these Asian immigrant voters who, generally speaking, aren't used to being outreached to.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so do we understand a little bit about which way some of these particular groups within the Asian American experience vote?

HSU: Generally speaking, it's true that Asian Americans have a lower degree of party allegiance. Of course, these are incredibly divisive times, so it sort of obscures the fact that most Asian Americans still vote Democrat. I think some of the issues that seem to be arising, at least in 2019, 2020 - obviously, immigration, rhetoric from the president, treatment of coronavirus, positioned on science - these are some of the issues really coming to the fore in some of these more competitive races.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I mean, you wrote that the National Committee of Asian American Republicans have decided not to endorse Trump. They're calling on their community to vote for Biden. Explain to me what that's about.

HSU: I think one thing that unites Asian American voters sort of across the political spectrum is this sort of fear of being scapegoated, fear of discrimination. It seems as though Trump's treatment of the coronavirus, of COVID, calling it the China flu - you know, it at least had a very significant impact on Cliff Li, the head of this committee you just named.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How have the Democrats done in terms of courting this, you know, important group?

HSU: I think coming out of the successes of 2018, they've really empowered more sort of Asian American campaign managers, campaign staffers, outreach officers. They're running a pretty sophisticated campaign in Texas, in parts of California, that really is sensitive to where people are getting their information, what sort of ethnic nationality-specific social media networks they're using rather than just sort of the three weeks before the election just inundating you with information. They're really very wise about sort of where people are actually having these conversations and organizing themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what about the role of Kamala Harris? If she becomes the next vice president of this country, she will also be representing Asian Americans because, of course, she is of Indian descent.

HSU: Yeah, and this was one of the really fascinating things that I learned while reporting this piece. According to some very good data, it appears that in the next census, Indian Americans will actually outnumber Chinese Americans. And the idea of the Asian American is often sort of more East Asian - Chinese Americans, Japanese American, Korean Americans. I think Kamala Harris represents something incredibly exciting among the Indian American community, especially among Democrats, where a lot of people feel as though she's really going to bring even more people to the party after that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Hua Hsu, a staff writer for The New Yorker.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

HSU: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEBASTIAN DAVIDSON'S "SLOW GOODS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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