During this election cycle we’ve heard a lot about voting blocs: Obama is favored by blacks and women, while white males and Evangelicals tend to vote for Romney. The news has story after story about the campaigns targeting Hispanics or undecided voters.
Little attention, however, has been paid to Asian voters even though 17 million Asians now live in the U.S., and census projections indicate that by 2050, one in 10 Americans will be of Asian ancestry. In Forest Park, with a population of 15,688 as of the last census, 1,071 of our neighbors and classmates can trace their origins to that part of the world.
Interested in Asian voting trends in our area, the Review circulated surveys at St. Bernardine Catholic Church, St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church and a Forest Park condo building and St. John United Methodist Church and the Chinese Bible Church in Oak Park.
The 26 respondents were either Thai or Filipino Americans, one of which became a U.S. citizen as early as 1976 and one as recently as this year. Three thought of themselves as Republicans, 14 as Democrats and eight as independents. Two said that four years ago they voted for McCain, nine for Obama and 10 did not vote.
Five responded that next week they will vote for Romney, 12 for Obama, seven said they did not intend to vote and two replied they were still undecided.
Two “experts” were consulted to help us make sense of the statistics. Roselle Badrina is a Forest Park resident and a U.S. citizen who grew up in the Philippines and came here as a 23-year-old in 1996. When asked how she would design campaign ads targeting Asians, she confined her response to her own ethnic group.
“My mom,” she began, “is more old-school and conservative. Filipinos as a whole are very religious. Unlike here in the U.S., it’s standing-room-only in churches back home. What my mom resonates with are personal issues like abortion and divorce. If I were Romney, I would push the abortion issue. To Filipinos that is a horrifying thing to do.”
“My mom also cares about the economy and poverty,” Badrina continued, “but only about those issues in the Philippines. She has lived here for over 20 years, but her heart is still back there. She only watches Filipino TV and knows more about the weather and politics back home than here.”
On the one hand, Badrina understands her mother. “I don’t think of myself as an American,” she explained. Then after thinking about it for a moment, she added, “but I think of my home as being here.” She concluded, “I see myself as a Filipina with a home in America. I don’t think I’ll ever retire there because all of my brothers and sisters and my husband are here.”
Badrina herself voted for Obama in 2008 because “I was desperate for a change from Bush at the time, and I pick and choose which issues are important to me. I feel the Democratic Party is more in line with issues like the environment which are important to me.” She will vote for Obama again on Nov. 6 but with less enthusiasm than four years ago.
William Pierros, a professor of political science at Concordia University in River Forest had a wider view. “In this presidential election,” he began, “Asian Americans have been largely ignored by both parties as a target group.”
Part of the problem is that Asians can’t be lumped together as one target. Koreans are very different religiously and culturally from Japanese. While abortion may be abhorrent to Filipinos, immigrants from China have grown up with the one child policy. When asked why no one from his congregation returned a survey, Rev. Raj Christodoss, one of the pastors at the Chinese Bible Church said that, in general, his members shy away from political discussions, especially Chinese from the mainland, who have bad memories of what happened to those who spoke out about politics.
“There are classification issues with Asian Americans,” he added. Fully one-third of Asian Americans self-identify as independent, which may simply reflect a growing trend among all voters.”
Pierros said there has been what he called a “political realignment is the last few decades. “Since 2000, Asian Americans have generally supported the Democratic candidate for president, whereas during the Bush Sr. and Clinton years, they tended to vote for the Republican candidates.”
As Asians increase in numbers and get their bearings on the American political landscape, Pierros would not be surprised to see more Asian American candidates run for office. “Right now,” he said, “there are no Asian Americans serving in the Illinois General Assembly.”
He added that Tammy Duckworth is worth watching because she is of mixed Thai/Chinese descent.