Thousands of eligible Asian American voters in seven crucial swing states could define the course of the 2020 election if they utilize the same-day voter registration options available to them.
The Research group New American Economy found that there were almost 305,000 currently unregistered Asian Americans living across the seven states in question. Three of the biggest populations live in Nevada (77,400), Michigan (63,800) and Minnesota (58,700).
The study found that because seven out of 13 swing states have same-day registration, Asian immigrants and other potential voters of color in those areas would have an outsize influence on the outcome of the Nov. 3 presidential contest if they decide to head to the polls.
New American Economy defined the swing states with same-day registration available as Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin. “Just from a purely demographic point of view, these are also states that are diversifying very rapidly,” Andrew Lim, the director of Quantitative Research at New American Economy, told NBC News. Courting these would-be voters is particularly important in 2020, as polls have found that there are both fewer undecided voters than there were in 2016 and fewer voters who say that they will vote for third-party presidential candidates.
Naturalized Americans of all races and ethnicities were much less likely to be registered to vote than native- born Americans. While 1 in 10 voters this year are expected to be naturalized Americans, the researchers found that nearly 40 percent of eligible immigrants in the United States are not registered to vote. This is despite the fact that there has been an increase in immigrants seeking naturalization in recent years, with the number of new U.S. citizens reaching a five-year high in the fiscal year 2018.
“There was a push for people who were eligible to naturalize, either because they were encouraged to or they felt the need to, given all that happened in 2016,” Lim said. “So we saw that naturalization increased for a variety of reasons. One of them was to vote, but the other was just to have citizenship to feel more secure in this country, given a lot of the rhetoric that was happening.”
Lim notes that much of the growth in the Asian American population in Nevada in particular comes from the Filipino American community and that engaging that group would be critical in order to successfully boost voter registration numbers on Election Day. “There is not a strong history of voter participation among Filipino Americans, especially among those who are naturalized citizens,” he said.
Lim notes that his own parents, who were born in the Philippines and are of Chinese descent, were not particularly politically involved until he and his sibling began talking to them about voting and the political process. “We said, ‘you know, voting is important and this is why,’” he recalled. “We know that among Asian American communities that trust is a big factor in terms of getting people to do something. And so the question is, how do you get information across through trusted partners in the community?”
While demographically different, the need to build trust and create a culture of voting is also key to tapping into the power of unregistered Asian Americans in the Midwestern swing states of Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota. Because many Midwesterners of Asian descent came to the country as Southeast Asian refugees, “they had a different path to citizenship,” Lim noted. “Voting is also not something many naturalized immigrants may not have experienced back in their home countries. And so they aren't used to exercising their right to vote and it’s something that they might not think of doing.”
It is also true that, like voters of all backgrounds, Asian Americans who have college degrees are more likely to register and vote because “they tend to be more aware of the issues,” said Lim. “There are also a lot of Asian communities that have been attracted to university systems and medical or hospital systems, especially Minnesota and Michigan,” he added. “So you kind of see two very different Asian American populations.”
While the South’s Asian American communities are often overlooked by campaigns, recent polls have shown that these voters can make a difference in North Carolina, which allows same day registration. “When you think of lower cost of living, and expanded job opportunities, states like North Carolina are at the top of that list,” he noted. Connecting with North Carolina’s more than 50,000 unregistered Asian American voters could have a lasting effect on both its Senate and presidential outcomes.
Although there is less than a week until Election Day, there is still time to connect with these potential voters, Lim says. A crucial step is to demystify the voter registration process. While there have been efforts to make communities more aware of same-day registration in the states it is available, “people may not know or might think it's difficult,” he said. “But as long as you have the documents in hand and go in person, it's straightforward.”
Read more from NBC Asian America's election series "Shift."