Hawaii is an Outlier as Pew Releases Asian American Voter Analysis

By Emil Guillermo

It’s easy to be annoyed with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a.k.a. the yearly excuse non-APAs pay attention to us.

As a group, we are notoriously “unstatisticized” (coinage mine), perhaps because generally there never seems to be a large enough sample size around to be statistically meaningful. 

Look at any political poll these days. Asian Americans are rarely if ever, mentioned. We’re too insignificant to bother with.

So, let’s welcome the new information put out this week by the respected Pew Research Center that dubs Asian Americans “the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group of eligible voters in the U.S.” 

Happy APA Heritage Month to you too, Pew. 

But it is odd the Pewsters intentionally left out the “P”s in APA. The report strictly says “Asian Americans,” and does not refer any ethnic breakout to Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, or other Pacific Islanders.

It would have only made our big group even bigger. 

As it stands, it’s just an analysis of Census Bureau data, but still, a good Heritage month reminder to all the politicos out there, that if they have a pre2000 lens on us, they better get some new glasses. 

Our group has grown since 2000—11.1 million were able to vote this year, 5% of the nation’s eligible voters, and the only major ethnic or racial group where our naturalized immigrant citizens who are eligible to vote (67%) outnumber our U.S. born voter eligible (33%).

According to Pew, Asians will make up 4.7% of U.S. eligible voters, but still lower than our status as 5.6% of the total U.S. population. Pew says that’s because of green card holders, those in the process of naturalization and the unauthorized. 

But still, six-in-ten of all Asian Americans are eligible, as Pew reports. 

Note to politicos: If you’re talking smack about immigrants, you better remember who you’re alienating—the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group of eligible voters in the U.S. 

Even as the 2020 campaign seems semi-dormant now, as we limp COVID-style to November, we better begin seeing more Asian American faces in campaign ads, campaign literature, and campaign staff. 

We better see candidates reaching out to Asian American communities and talking about our issues like we matter. 

Even if Pew left out the “P,” we’re still the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group of eligible voters in the U.S. 

Let’s start acting like it, everybody. 

Of course, the headline says eligible voters. It doesn’t say we actually vote, or care, or are even registered to vote. (Please register to vote.) 

Our eligibility implies we’re citizens and don’t have to fear ICE. In other words, we’re not foreigners. 

That alone may be the report’s real value. Next time someone blames you for the virus and says “Go back to China” when you’re from the Philippines, flash them the Pew report. 

And let’s hope every campaign will have a copy of The Pew Report on hand if they’re in California, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois, Washington, Florida, Virginia and Massachusetts, and Nevada, the top states with the largest numbers and shares of Asian eligible voters. 

There’s no excuse to ignore us now. 

More analysis of the analysis 

Here are some other items in the Pew report worth noting.

From 2000 to 2020, the Asian American eligible voters grew by 139%. That was faster than the Hispanic electorate’s 121% growth. Compare that with the slow pace of African American growth (33%) and the White electorate (7%). 

The GOP was at a real crossroads in 2016 and at first, was all set with a post-Bush diversity agenda that embraced all minorities. That’s all been shredded by Trump the last four years, and you can see how the president’s tack has really been to preserve a white establishment, appealing to the slowest growing, fastest declining electorate in America. 

It definitely has guided his COVID response. Blacks dying at record rates. Too bad? Trump says tough. Pacific Islanders dying at 12 times the rate of whites in LA? Too bad. Who are these Islanders again? (See my previous column.)

As I mentioned that the PI’s aren’t even mentioned is an inclusivity blind spot.

The report does point out it stayed focused on East, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Just six groups accounted for the majority—Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese—85 percent of all the Asians in the U.S.

More Democratic 

The report does mention that Asian Eligible Voters are more Democratic than not. But points out that Vietnamese are more likely to identify as Republican (42%) vs. Asians overall (28%). Indians are polarized the opposite way, with 50% calling themselves Democrats vs. 18% calling themselves Republican.

On the economics and English proficiency spectrum, the report points out the differences lie in your arrival date. The earlier you came (Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Indian) you had higher median incomes, spoke better English. The more recent immigrants like the Burmese and the Cambodians did not.

I found the median age of Asian Eligibles to be worth noting. It’s 46. That’s older than black (44) and Hispanic (38), younger than white (51), according to the report. 

We’re not kids. We’re the young mature.

The big surprise for me: There is more of a generational difference among U.S.-born and Foreign-born Asian Americans, and that may be something that some of you are experiencing in your communities.

Pew put the U.S.-born Asian Eligible Voter’s median age at 31, while the foreign-born Asian Eligible Voter’s median age was 51. 

How Asian is the U.S. born? Too Americanized for their own good and a source of conflict? Or ready to rally for the greater good? 

We’ll see who gets to pick the DJ at the campaign night victory party. 

Hawaii’s the Outlier 

This may all seem somewhat quaint for Hawaii, which as Pew points out is the state with the highest share of eligible voters than any group, 38%. 

It represents 384,000 Asian eligible voters. 

California is a smaller share, 14 percent, but has more Asian eligible voters at 3.6 million.

In many ways, Hawaii should be an example of our great Asian American political paradise.

To a degree it is. What other state had a Filipino governor? 

Unfortunately, in no other state do Asian Americans pack the wallop as they do in Hawaii. That’s why we need each other to stand united and act in coalition, throughout the nation.

The hope is this Pew report will provide guidance to politicians on the mainland and won’t just get shoved into some campaign file folder.

We’re here. Notice us. Pay attention.

Still, I admit I was expecting a more inclusive report that includes Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islanders. I know they have their own category in the Census and that’s the likely reason they were left out. But if APA is our designation, or AANHPI, or AAPI, then why not combine it? As I said 20 years ago in an Emil Amok column, there’s still the urge some have to ignore that big lump that’s too often swept under our Asian American rug.

When they’re on our side, like the star quarterback at St. Louis High, we’re certainly all for it.

EMIL GUILLERMO is a veteran journalist and commentator. He was a member of the Honolulu Advertiser editorial board. Listen to him on Apple Podcasts. Twitter @emilamok.

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