Asian Americans make up just five percent of the U.S. population,
but they may play an important role in Tuesday's presidential election
in such key states such as Virginia and Nevada. Mike O'Sullivan reports
from Los Angeles, both major political parties and community activists
are working to get out the Asian American vote.
UCLA Asian American Studies Center Director Don Nakanishi says
Asian-American voters are important to both presidential campaigns.
"Asian Americans now number nearly 15 million across the country, and
they are concentrated in electorally rich states - California, New
York, Texas, as well as in Hawaii, New Jersey, and places like
Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders total five percent of the
population of Virginia and six percent in Nevada. Both are hotly
contested states in this election, and under the U.S. presidential
election system individual state votes decide the winner.
In California, Asian Americans are 12 percent of the population, with
heavy concentrations in places like Westminster. This city of
90-thousand is home to an immigrant neighborhood called Little Saigon.
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A recent festival and parade offered both parties a chance to get out
their message. Volunteers handed out balloons with campaign fliers, and
local politicians took part in the parade.
Vietnamese immigrant Tri Ta is a Westminster city councilman and
supporter of Republican presidential candidate John McCain. He says for
him and others in his community, issues in their homeland are important
"We are really concerned with issues of human rights and democracy.
That is one of the top concerns that the Vietnamese American community
He says McCain, who was a prisoner during the Vietnam War, understands
Vietnam's communist government and knows how to deal with it.
A survey of Asian-American voters released in early October showed that
two-thirds of Vietnamese Americans support McCain, but other Asian
Americans preferred Barack Obama by varying margins. Chinese, Japanese
and Indian Americans backed Obama by more than a three-to-one ratio.
Filipino and Korean Americans also supported Obama over McCain, but by
a narrower margin.
The study found that among Asian Americans, Democrats
outnumber Republicans by more than a two to one. But half of
Asian-American voters are non-partisan or independent.
Both parties are reaching out to Asian-Pacific voters. Their efforts
are limited by the problem of dealing with multiple languages.
Asian-American volunteers are helping. Vietnamese-American Lily Nguyen
supports Democrat Barack Obama for president and backs local Democratic
candidates in the city of Garden Grove, California. She says ethnic
voters must make their voices heard.
"You know, we have a small ethnic community group here and we have
another small community, ethnic group there. How can we make sure that
they are all involved?"
Independent Asian-American organizations are also helping with the
effort to get out the vote. Lisa Thong of the Center for Asian
Americans United for Self Empowerment oversees a telephone information
line, where volunteers answer voter questions.
"About what to do if you want to vote by mail, if you have not received
your voting information what you should do. We are answering all types
of questions in English and Mandarin and Cantonese."
Housewife Christine Lai is responding to the phone calls. An immigrant
from Taiwan, she says Asian-American voters are interested in the
"Especially since right now, people know how important voting is to make power in the Asian community and make change."
Don Nakanishi of UCLA says many Asian Americans are recent immigrants
and are new to the U.S. political process. But he says that year by
year, more are getting active in politics.
Nakanishi's center compiles an annual list of Asian Americans who hold
major elected or appointed office. He says the number has grown to more
than two-thousand office holders in 38 states.
Many Asian-American voters have been slow to make a decision on the
presidential election. The recent survey showed that in the past month
of the campaign, one third were undecided. The study showed that 80
percent of Asian Americans who are likely voters list the economy as a
pressing problem, followed by the war in Iraq.
Click on our audio files above to listen to this report in Lao.