Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why AAPIs Don't Get Respect In The World Of Politics

AAPIs are getting unprecedented attention in this election cycle.

Unlike Latino and African American communities, AAPI were not expected to break for Pres. Obama in decisive numbers.  With Gov. Romney winning with voters who make over $100,000/year and AAPIs having super high households incomes, many pundits expected the AAPI community to naturally trend for the pro-business anti-tax GOP candidate.  Instead, AAPIs broke for Pres. Obama by a whopping 73% to 26% in national exit polls.

Unfortunately, the AAPI community has squandered an opportunity to become politically relevant by making ridiculously flawed and misleading statements regarding the AAPI vote.  The biggest and most frequent violation has been the claim that political parties and candidates are ignoring AAPI voters.  This claim is based on the flawed interpretation of AAPI voter response to a legitimate polling question that asks if the voter has been contacted by a political party or candidate.

Here is the quote from the AAJC/APIAVote/AIA poll:

"AAPIs identified overwhelmingly as Democrats in the poll - more than three times more than Republican - but less than a third were contacted by the Democratic Party in the last two years, while 37 percent of Republicans said they heard a great deal from their party over the same period. Independents barely heard from either party even though they are usually prime targets."

I'm not saying that the question is not valid or that the respondents are intentionally lying.  What I am saying is that the interpretation of this data is wrong and the perpetuation of it reveals that AAPIs have a severe lack of political sophistication.  Here's why:

1) Sometimes what a respondent thinks and what actually is fact can be two entirely different things.  For example, the California Labor Federation conducted extensive polling and focus group research (in English and in-language) on AAPI voters in 2010 that indicated that
a majority of AAPI voters had not seen a Meg Whitman ad.  Anyone living in California would know that not seeing a Whitman ad was virtually impossible considering Whitman spent nearly $150 million on television, print, internet and direct mail voter contact.  What probably happened is that AAPI voters DID see her ads and then forgot about it.  People have gotten good at tuning out sensory overload with all the data coming at us in today's information heavy new media environment.  AAPIs who say they haven't been contacted by a political party or a candidate could (and most likely) just have forgotten or underestimated the frequency of contact.

2) Political parties typically limit contact to members of their parties.  Voters are Democrats, Republicans, independents, etc. for a reason.  If I'm a Republican, a call from the Democratic Party will (A) have no effect on my decision or (B) piss me off.  If I'm an independent (or no party preference) voter, I actively decided to not affiliate with either major party and probably would not be persuaded to vote for a candidate because the parties that I eschewed had called on his or her behalf.  In California, 36% of AAPI voters are registered as Democrats.  At best, only 36% of California's AAPIs would have been contacted by the Democratic Party (also, if at all, the Democratic Party would most likely be contacting only high-propensity voters...making that percentage even smaller).

3) All states and localities are not equal.  Extensive ethnic voter data is available in California.  In contrast, similar ethnic voter data is not easily available in Nevada.  As such, the ability for campaigns to target AAPI voters nationally is dependent and limited by the availability of accurate voter data that includes ethnic breakdowns.  When AAPI voters are not contacted in states like Nevada, it may just be a function of available and affordable data.  I would add that Pres. Obama had a robust AAPI voter outreach effort in both the Nevada and Virginia battlegrounds that was made possible by a concerted effort by the campaign to collect and build their own
voter file and dedicate a senior staff position to the AAPI vote.

Why does this matter?

1) Saying that political parties and candidates don't care about reaching AAPI voters is patently incorrect and makes us look politically inexperienced, out-of-touch or just plain stupid
(even though I'm a Democrat, I really don't believe that Republicans care any less about reaching AAPI voters...the GOP is just not as good at it and their ideological platform is less inviting to immigrants).

2) Saying that political parties and candidates don't care about reaching AAPI voters is an insult to the senior level AAPIs who have been hired by local, state and national campaigns as part of their ethnic voter outreach strategy.  The erroneous claim that AAPIs are being ignored diminishes the significance of these groundbreaking campaign positions and the accomplishments of the AAPIs who have held those positions.

Saying that political parties and candidates don't care about reaching AAPI voters implies that mail contact or a phone call is more important than what the candidate is actually doing for the community.  Why isn't more space on press releases dedicated to connecting President Obama's extensive AAPI accomplishments during his first term to the stunning landslide support by AAPI voters on Election Day? 

4) Whining doesn't make you relevant.  It just makes you a whiner.


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