Regardless of our political biases, I sincerely hope that everyone feels some level of excitement in seeing our democracy at work on a day like Super Tuesday. Thus, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk a bit about the elections and Asian American’s increasingly important role in them. And in doing so, also highlight a surprising candidate from this year’s Democratic primaries that made it further than just about anyone would have predicted a year ago. In fact, he was the last person of color to drop out of the race as a Democratic presidential hopeful. That man is 44 year old tech entrepreneur and son of Taiwanese immigrants, Andrew Yang.
Being the first Asian American man to run for president as a Democrat and make it that far was quite an accomplishment, and one that got an early boost from a core group of Asian American supporters. This is significant as Asian Americans may be important politically in certain local races, but are quite frankly often overlooked by larger races. This is not only because they’re a relatively small group nationally at around 6% of the population, but they have traditionally been less politically active than other segments of the US. However, in recent years Asian American communities have been purposefully developing civic and political infrastructure which has included a growing base of voters, donors and increasingly, local elected officials of Asian American ethnicity.
To put this increased interest and involvement in the political process into perspective, over the last decade, the number of registered Asian American voters has doubled from about 2.4 Million voters in 2000, to 5.8 million voters in 2016. In addition, in 2014, only 27% of Asian American’s turned out to vote nationally. However, while still relatively low, that number doubled to a 47% voter turnout rate in 2018 (compared to 66% African American and 64% non-Hispanic white voters).
So while progress is being made, clearly there is still much work to do. And having positive role models like Andrew – a successful entrepreneur who put himself out there on the campaign trail – will pay dividends for this audience who in the past hasn’t felt as close to American politics and that politicians who rarely reach out actually care about “people like me”. That changes when Asian Americans are in the race locally, as that’s when we’ve started to see higher engagement and registration. What has largely been fueling the increase in registered voting has been the surge in Asian Americans running for Congress – from 8 in 2008, to 10 in 2010, to 30 in 2012, to 39 in 2014, to 40 in 2016, to just over 80 in 2018! When this happens, they engage their network to get involved and a grass roots swell ensues.
Another important impact of having Yang in the race is that he’s contributing to a wave of Asian American influencers on a national stage that are breaking the predefined path of being a doctor or lawyer for many young Asian Americans. This younger generation are increasingly seeing successful role models in entertainment, sports and now politics that look like them.
“Growing up in a household that never encouraged me to go into politics or really even vote, an important piece of this is encouraging more Asian-Americans to get involved,” said one young Chinese American supporter. Interest in Mr. Yang’s candidacy has been particularly high among younger, second-generation Asian-Americans, which has helped pull them into being involved – forming an early enthusiastic core members of the “Yang Gang,” the name given to Mr. Yang’s most devoted supporters.
And it seems that he’s relished this opportunity to be that positive role model as he said in an interview in December, “It’s heartwarming when people are excited to see me because they feel like I represent their community. And I will admit that there are many Asian-Americans who are looking at me and my candidacy and want to make sure I reflect positively on the community, so I’m very aware.”
America is not yet ready for an Asian American president, but get ready for Asian Americans to continue to become MORE active and visible on local, regional and national stages. And as they do, look for politicians to begin to take them more seriously as a political force to be reckoned with much as corporate USA has begun to see the potential of this rapidly growing and influential audience to impact their bottom line.
As for Andrew Yang, we haven’t seen the last of him as CNN has brought him on as a political commentator (to strong reviews)… and should he make it further into the race, Bloomberg is reportedly considering him as a potential running mate.