In the past decade, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have gone from being the least represented community among voters to having the greatest increase in voter turnout.
In a Pacific Ties article titled “Events raise voter awareness in API community,” published in the Fall 2010 issue, writer Cherry To explored the low AAPI voter engagement.
“Despite the continuing increase in population, the API community is #1 in voter non-turnout, especially among young voters,” she wrote.
According to Pew Research Center, only 31% of Asian Americans voted in 2010.
In contrast, AAPI voting turnout saw the biggest increase out of all ethnic groups in the United States in 2020, according to NPR.
AAPI votes surged by 47% between the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, while the total number of general votes cast in the election increased by about 12%. TargetSmart, a provider of election data, found that “almost half of all AAPI voters who cast a ballot in 2020 did not vote in 2016, and a quarter had never voted in an election before.”
Asian American and Pacific Islander turnout still lagged behind white and Black voting percentages in 2020, at 71% and 63% respectively. However, with 59% of AAPI citizens over 18 voting in the 2020 election, there has been a substantial step in the right direction.
To wrote that one reason for the lack of AAPI electoral representation in 2010 was that many people did not know the impact that local and national politics could have on their community. Many AAPI immigrants do not receive comprehensive civics training, which can discourage them from participating in the American electoral process.
In addition to a lack of awareness surrounding local and national politics within the AAPI community, social awareness and solidarity in the community has largely contributed to an increase in voter participation and political participation.
This raises the question of why the AAPI community has become much more politically and socially active in recent years.
One factor that plays a large role in this shift are the intergenerational differences within the AAPI community, specifically between young adults now and their parents’ generation. Many of the young AAPI adults today are children of immigrant parents or first generation parents. As a result, the difference in motivation and upbringing plays a significant role in political participation and voter status. The newer generations of young adults are known for their social activism and engagement with politics, a trend that makes sense regarding their status in an often racialized country. The gap in their motivations and their parents is linked to immigrant status and the definition of what it means to be “American.”
While young adults born in this country feel a sense of duality because of their AAPI status as well as their existence as a citizen of the United States, their parents and grandparents before them possessed different standards for a fair existence in America. Older generations, specifically those of immigrant status, often arrived in America with the goal to succeed in the United States by whatever means possible. This was further emphasized by the racist history of the United States towards members of the AAPI community, ultimately creating an environment in which older generations were forced to assume a degree of silence and complacency in order to succeed.
To exist as a person of color in a white space means to conform to their standards which is what older generations were forced to do. As a result, levels of political participation and activism were reasonably lower in the past and the influence of this is not easy to escape. Generational ideals and trends are aspects that are all too familiar to AAPI youth, and therefore the influence of an immigrant past in a predominantly white country accounts for the disparity between generations in political participation as well as the shift towards increased voter turnout.
In addition to the influence of an immigrant past, in recent years, the AAPI community has had motivation to develop a sense of community. During the events of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial prejudices and slurs such as the “China virus” appear to have further motivated the AAPI community to band together against hatred. Challenging events and adversity often have the effect of increasing activism and motivation as seen in the case of the AAPI community.
The shift in voter turnout can be directly attributed to the influence of a community that has been forced to weigh conformity and success against social change which differs among each respective generation. As each generation grows slightly more distant from their immigrant past, a sense of presence and equality naturally develops further. AAPI youth are beginning to speak up more as they advocate for their existence and exercise their rights as United States citizens.
Although there is room for improvement, the AAPI community has made leaps and bounds in its political participation over the years, as seen through the increase in voters between the 2010 Pacific Ties article and the present. As the AAPI community continues to increasingly advocate for itself, a sense of solidarity and a drive to enact change has led to an increase in political participation and voter turnout.
As the AAPI population in the United States continues to grow and younger generations become politically active, we will most likely keep seeing an increase in Asian American voting turnout.