The Femo: Mission in action at the polls – Where is the Asian Vote?

by Sarah Rubin

With campaign buzz in full swing, both the Obama and Romney camps have recently been courting minority groups in hopes of securing their votes this November. But in accordance with past campaign precedence, one group has been left out of the mix. The Asian American population has consistently had low voter participation rates in presidential elections, resulting from both low voter registration rates and low voter turnout. And although American women have generally enjoyed significantly higher rates of voter participation in comparison to their male counterparts, Asian American women do not follow this trend.

According to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, only 32.5 percent of Asian women reported voting in the 2008 presidential election. This figure is the lowest rate of female voter turnout of any racial group, and serves as a stark contrast to the 61.7 percent of white women and 64.4 percent of African American women who voted in the same election.

These significantly low rates of political participation are especially problematic in light of recent reports of an increasing Asian American population. A New York Times article published earlier this year reported Asian Americans as the “fastest-growing racial group in the country” due to a recent influx of immigration. Thus, as the Asian American population continues to increase, a lack of voting participation by Asian women is concerning for the representation of Asian Americans in the political process.

Political science research has reinforced the existence of a direct relationship between voter participation and government responsiveness: A high level of government responsiveness and attentiveness to particular groups of constituents corresponds to higher voter turnout rates. Inversely, if voters do not feel as though their elected officials are responsive or attentive to their needs, they are less likely to participate in the electoral process.

This relationship seems to ring true for Asian American females across the country. In general, Asian Americans have received very little attention in the presidential campaign circuit. This year, presidential candidates’ minimal attention towards the Asian American community has focused almost exclusively on the economy. Mitt Romney’s “courtship” of middle-class Asian Americans in Virginia aimed to shed light on their economic hardships in the past four years, while President Obama’s Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has recently focused on the successes of Asian American small-business owners.

Yet the needs of Asian American women are neither catered to nor addressed by presidential candidates. In particular, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum reports that reproductive justice and women’s health issues pertaining to Asian American and Pacific Islander women are largely ignored on the national political stage.

Major issues groups like NAPAWF address mandatory Human papillomavirus vaccinations, anti-human trafficking laws, and sex selection. These issues, and the ways in which they pertain to the Asian American community, receive minimal media attention and are rarely prioritized by elected officials.

It remains to be seen whether or not the female Asian American community will actively participate in the 2012 election. With increasing awareness of the rapid growth of the Asian American population, it is possible that greater efforts will be made to ensure Asian voter mobilization and turnout.

However, for the rates of female Asian American voter participation to continually and significantly increase, elected officials must recognize that these women constitute an integral part of our country’s electorate and begin to turn their attention towards their unique needs as constituents. It is only then that Asian American and Pacific Islander female voices will truly be heard.