Asian Americans Key in Virginia Senate Race?

When I drafted this post, incumbent Virginia Senator Mark Warner held a narrow margin of victory over challenger Ed Gillespie (Warner has since declared victory, and Gillespie officially conceded). The race was bitterly contested, and the results are notable in that Asian Americans–with growing populations in Northern Virginia–were very likely determinative in Warner’s victory.

UC Berkeley political science professor, Taeku Lee, working with the AAPI Civic  Engagement Fund, conducted the Asian American Election Eve Poll, a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, nationally representative survey with targeted samples of Asian Americans in California, Texas, and Virginia. According to Professor Lee’s polling data, in Virginia, Asian Americans strongly favored Warner at over a 2-to-1 ratio (68 percent Warner to 29 percent Gillespie).
Virginia is at the intersection of a number of demographic shifts: the changing composition and meaning of “suburbs,” increases in Asian American and Latino populations, the shifting political economy of regions, that can be seen in different ways in most metropolitan regions across the country. In this context, and in the context of the larger shift toward our becoming a society in which we are all minorities, non-traditional constituencies in unexpected geographies become increasingly important. As the recent election demonstrates and as Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe demonstrated last year, Democrats can ride these demographic shifts to electoral victory in swing/purple places.

As we look toward 2016, politicians of all stripes and colors would do well to pay attention to these shifting demographics, particularly that of the growing Asian-American Pacific Islander population.  As Professor Lee writes in a separate piece for the Brookings Institution, while the Asian American vote has been increasingly Democratic over the past 20 plus years, most Asian Americans do not identify with any particular party and,  “Asian Americans’ relatively low rates of party identification are mirrored by relatively low rates of partisan mobilization of Asian Americans.” But as Ed Gillespie now knows, politicians and political parties may be ignoring AAPIs to their peril.

(Photo credit: Flickr user Mark Warner, CC BY-2.0)

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