Getting Asian-American voters to the polls has long been a challenge for civic engagement organizers, but a new report suggests engagement among the nation's fastest growing racial group is improving — at least in California.
According to the report released Thursday in Los Angeles by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil rights and civic engagement organization, more Asian-Americans are voting than ever before.
The report dissects voter participation in California during the 2012 general election, in which Asian-American voters made up just 9 percent of registered voters statewide.
But the numbers have been improving: Between 2002 and 2012, the number of Asian-Americans registered to vote in the state went up by nearly 60 percent. It's estimated that by the 2016 election, Asian-Americans will make up nearly 11 percent of voters statewide.
In the 2012 election, the number of Asian-American voters registered in 38 legislative districts exceeded the margin of victory for candidates in these races, said Dan Ichinose, a demographic researcher with the group. He said this was calculated by the number of registered Asian-American voters in each district and the number of votes by which candidates won.
It doesn't mean Asian-American voters decided these elections, but Ichinose said it does demonstrate the potential these voters have for influencing election outcomes.
"I think there is a stereotype that Asian-Americans are not civically engaged," Ichinose said. "But these data show that increasing numbers are registering to vote and casting ballots, and they they wield influence in legislative districts throughout the state."
The hope, he said, is that elected officials will begin paying more attention to Asian-American voters in their districts.
But there is still more outreach to do. Native-born, over-35 Asian-American voters in California participate at the polls more or less on par with the general population, according to the research. But younger voters — and voters who are first-generation immigrants — still lag behind.
The organization has been conducting a 17-language get-out-the-vote phone bank since early October in hopes of reaching immigrant voters, who face language and cultural barriers to participation.