Key swing vote?

By Wen Xian in Washington and Wang Zhaokun in Beijing Source:Global Times Published: 2012-10-9 0:25:03

People listen as US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, California on Sunday. Photo: AFP
People listen as US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, California on Sunday. Photo: AFP

As the 2012 US presidential election approaches, US President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney are still locked in a dead heat, with the most recent polls showing the two almost tied among likely voters in the US.

Chinese American voters, the group that was seen as being less likely to swing results in previous elections, have gained more attention from both the Democrats and Republicans, as they might influence the outcome of some swing states.

But analysts say compared to other voter groups, the attitude of Chinese Americans is still more "reserved" in the US election, saying they could have a bigger role to play.

Potential voters to woo

According to 2009 statistics, Asian Americans account for 4.7 percent of the total 300 million US population, of whom 3.6 million are Chinese Americans. While Asian and Chinese Americans still make up a relatively small slice of the country's population, their numbers have been growing rapidly.

The Pew Research Center said in a report this year that Asian Americans accounted for 36 percent of all immigrants in 2011, while Hispanics accounted for 31 percent. In the 2008 presidential election, Obama won 62 percent of the Asian vote while his opponent John McCain only garnered 35 percent.

Democrats are now looking to cement this support in the November election.  In a speech at the Democratic National Convention last month, Judy Chu, the first Chinese American woman ever elected to the US Congress, called for Americans to re-elect Obama, saying this would help people achieve their American dream.

Obama and Romney are now vying for swing voters, especially those in swing states, where a small margin of victory could be decided by a few thousand votes.

Republicans are obviously hoping to peel away some of Obama's support among Asian Americans.

In August, Romney appointed Elaine Chao, a Chinese American, as the national chair of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for his campaign. Chao became the first Asian American woman appointed to serve in the US Cabinet when she served as Secretary of Labor under the George W. Bush administration.

In campaigning for Romney, Chao said the US needs new leadership to put this country on a path to prosperity and full employment.

Analysts say the pivotal roles the two Chinese American female politicians played in the US presidential campaign show that Chinese Americans could play a key role in choosing the next US president.

'Reserved' attitude

Currently, however, the turnout of Chinese and other Asian American voters remains relatively low compared to other ethnic groups. In the 2008 US presidential election, only 48 percent of registered Asian voters went to the polls, while the average turnout was 62 percent.

Xue Haipei, a Chinese American and president of the National Council of Chinese Americans, told the Global Times that the importance of an ethnic group can be judged by how much money the candidates spent on the group during the campaign, although this is not the sole criterion.

Xue was part of the Obama campaign in 2008, helping woo Chinese American voters, and has joined the campaign this year as well.

"So far, both Obama and Romney issued few campaign ads through Chinese language media," he added.

Xue said Chinese American voters are likely to be less enthusiastic about the election compared to four years ago.

"Four years ago, many Chinese and other Asian Americans voted for Obama due to his political charisma, and some saw him as the first 'Asia-Pacific' president, but now people put more value on what change the candidates can bring to their lives."

Social, China policies 'important'

"Chinese American voters tended to favor the Republicans, especially before the Bill Clinton administration, because they agreed with their economic policies," Xue said.

However, he said the situation has largely changed since then with the change of the demographic composition — the new generation of Chinese Americans has already grown up.

In the 2008 election, 65 percent of Chinese American voters voted for Obama and this year the Chinese American vote is likely to further increase.

Xue believes that this scenario can be attributed to the fact that the Democrats' economic and social policies, such as health care and social security reforms, are more popular among Chinese American voters.

A Chinese American surnamed Xie based in Maryland told the Global Times that many of them are not that interested in politics, but he said the policies proposed by the candidates will have a big impact on their lives.

"I feel that many Chinese Americans in Maryland tend to stand by Obama's social policies because they can protect the interests of middle and lower class people," he said. "My son said to me, 'Dad, if Romney becomes president, your health care insurance will be gone.'"

Romney has been attacking Obama over his health care law, which requires citizens to purchase health insurance or incur a penalty.

Xue said another factor that might influence Chinese American voters is the candidates' policies on China.

"Foreign policy might not be the deciding factor in the US election, but this could be an exception for Chinese American voters. The strong comments on China Romney repeatedly made during his campaign made his policies very unpopular among Chinese Americans," he said.

Romney said Obama's refusal to stop "China's cheating" has led to job losses in the US manufacturing sector.

Posted in: Americas

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