On February 17, the Swarthmore Asian Organization (SAO) hosted a teahouse on the topic of political apathy in Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) communities.
Asians and Pacific Islanders comprise one of the largest minority groups in the United States; however, Pew Research Center reported that only 31% of eligible Asians and Pacific Islanders voted in the 2014 midterm elections, as opposed to 44% of eligible African Americans and 49% of eligible Caucasians.
“If Asian Americans remain reluctant to engage, then other people will decide, on our behalf, our role in society,” SAO President Leon Chen ’18 said.
The organizers for this teahouse, Aaron Kang ’19 and Haruka Ono ’19, created a list of potential reasons for political apathy in APIA communities: fragmented groups might want different agendas, language barriers exist, a single language cannot be targeted, and the majority of APIA live in non-swing states. The group discussed the general attitude among APIA about not having a sense of political efficacy.
In addition to a list of potential reasons, Kang and Ono created a list of potential solutions, such as the “80-20 Initiative.” This solution would unite 80% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders behind one candidate who best represents the interests of the group so the group would become a swing vote. If this initiative became effective, the APIA vote would increase in its political power and politicians would start paying attention to that demographic. However, a major flaw in this initiative is the assumption that all groups within APIA have the same interests, since the communities are fragmented: there are too many interests for one candidate to represent.
Other solutions are simpler, such as strengthening the votes “from the ground up,” which means having someone similar to your background getting you to vote, and more APIA representation in the government.
Often associated with higher voter turnout is college education. “I think it’s the fact that once you enter college, there’s already strong political environment and a lot of the political influence will come to you,” Kang said. Ono said,“It’s mostly the external influence I got from Swarthmore. I feel like here, everyone is politically active.”
The teahouse had a low turnout. “It was something I was worried about and it did turn out to be true,” said Ono. “Those who aren’t very interested in politics, they did not come to this political apathy talk.” It sounds ironic that a talk to combat political apathy was not well-attended because of political apathy. “I think a majority of Asians on this campus initially don’t have the interest to talk about politics,” said Kang.