Image Caption: Fil-Ams’ get-out-the-vote drive in Las Vegas last year. INQUIRER FILE
“We aren’t Asian American!” a friend of mind said to me not long ago. “We’re Filipino.”
Indeed, we are. My friend would say “Filipino American.” I like to say “American Filipino.”
The one thing we got correct was the ethnic part.
But how we define ourselves politically is another matter. The Census Bureau’s numbers put Filipinos at just about 4,000,000 in the U.S. right now.
Sure, we can speak for ourselves. But when you’re a relatively small group, you need to work in coalition. And I don’t just mean Ilocanos working with Visayans or Caviteños, or any other Filipino group.
I mean Filipinos working with Chinese, Indians, Southeast Asians, and all the rest of the groups under the big umbrella term “Asian American.”
All told, the Asian American population incorporates multiple ethnicities that flex a muscle that has grown to more than 20 million people.
You want to win in politics in the U.S.? Anywhere? Then it’s best that you’re part of the 20 million, and not standing alone with just your kababayans.
I mention that just in case you’re like my friend and see the term “Asian American” as an offense to one’s Filipino pride. In fact, some still see “Asian American” as synonymous with Chinese.
It doesn’t work that way anymore. Or at least, it shouldn’t.
That said, it’s important that we look at the new report on the Asian American vote of 2016 released today by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. (Disclosure: I work with AALDEF, but had nothing to do with the polling project).
Before I get into the guts of it, you’re probably asking: Why is a report of a poll on the 2016 election that took place back in November important today?
It’s because traditional polls hardly tell us anything at all about the Asian American vote.
If you look at the mainstream polls used by the majority of media, they barely have enough Asian Americans in their sample to have any credibility. The polls are hardly ever are done in-language, and in their attempt to achieve randomness, they often skip major pockets of the Asian American population.
Traditional polls can hardly talk reliably about an “Asian” vote; but what if we want to drill down by ethnicity? The low sample sizes make the mainstream polls useless as a comprehensive measurement of Asian American political sentiment.
It makes the AALDEF report, albeit nearly six months after election day, still a document worth reviewing simply because it goes through the painstaking task of asking Asian Americans what they thought politically.
In other words, it acted like what we did November 8 really mattered.
That was election day, and on that day, over 800 attorneys, law students and volunteers went out to 14 states—California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
Hawaii, the most Asian American state by percentage, was left out due to costs.
But look at who they reached. The poll surveyed 13,846 Asian American voters at 93 poll sites in 55 cities, and did so in English and 11 Asian languages.
You don’t see the major pollsters do that.
The big headline for the broad group is that nearly four of five (79 percent) Asian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton. Trump got just 18 percent.
Compared with those benchmark numbers for all Asian Americans, Filipinos were for Clinton by a majority, but just 71 percent.
However, Filipinos were also among the Trumpiest Asian Americans with 27 percent for the Donald, second only to Vietnamese, which backed Trump with 32 percent. Vietnamese were also the lowest for Hillary at 65 percent.
The AALDEF report thus confirms the ongoing trend of a Filipino conservatism.
That may be due to the religious bent of our culture. The report found that among Asian American religious voters, Trump earned 30 percent of the Protestant vote, followed by 28 percent of the Catholic vote. Muslims gave Trump just 2 percent.
Where the poll could be helpful to policymakers present and future might be in the upcoming mid-term races. AALDEF found the majority of Asian Americans voted for Democratic candidates in most congressional races.
And as far as issues go the top Asian American concerns are: the economy and jobs (22 percent); followed by immigration/refugees (16 percent); health care (16 percent); education (15 percent); terrorism/security (10 percent); women’s issues (10 percent); and the environment (6 percent).
There was no mention of North Korea, or nuclear war, but it probably would be on the list if the poll were conducted today. It might also add “lack of transparency of the president” or even “lack of understanding of international affairs.”
But here’s what concerned me going forward about our community.
Of the nearly 14,000 respondents, the survey included Chinese (35 percent), South Asian (29 percent), Korean (10 percent), Southeast Asian (10 percent), and Filipino (7 percent).
Seven percent? Not exactly proportionate to our size.
As I mentioned earlier, Filipinos make up about 4 million of the 20 million Asian Americans.
That’s 20 percent.
That’s a lot more than the 7 percent represented in the poll.
I know that some of you may vote absentee, or vote by mail. You couldn’t be surveyed. And I know that the general number of 4 million Filipinos includes a large number of non-citizens, as well as the young, all of which make up a large number on non-voters.
But still, I’m bothered that a poll that will be shared with politicos and operatives of all stripes will have such a low number of Filipinos represented. Fortunately, there’s still enough to come up with a Filipino sample. But if Asian Americans are to be our affinity power group, we need to make sure we’re included proportionate to our real numbers.
The worst thing that I could think of is that in such an important election cycle some Filipinos have chosen not to vote.
Could that be? Instead of inclusion and being counted, we opted out?
That would be more tragically irresponsible than having Trump as president.
And now we all live with the consequences.
Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator. He writes from Northern California.