In Life and Politics, Asian Influence Grows

The expanding influence of the Asian community in the South in general, and in Georgia in particular is evidenced by the recent merger of the four year old Asian American Legal Advocacy Center with the national organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which previously had branches in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles.

A billboard encouraging Asians to vote is on Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth.  Photo:  Jon Richards
A billboard encouraging Asians to vote is on Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth. Photo: Jon Richards
The new affiliation was announced at a recent conference, where Advancing Justice released a new report, The Changing Face of the South: Building Electoral Power in Emerging Constituencies. The report provides a wealth of data on the Asian, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population in several southern metro areas, including Atlanta.

Georgia’s Asian population grew by 83% between 2000 and 2010. Asians are 5% of the metro Atlanta population, however Gwinnett County, has the largest Asian population in Georgia at 11%.

The Pew Charitable Trusts took this research and wrote a separate report about how Asians are affecting southern politics. Georgia GOP Minority Engagement Director Leo Smith noted that while two thirds of Asian voters chose Barack Obama in 2012, that was less than the 95% of black voters that supported him.

“We obviously have not as hard a row to hoe,” Smith said. “We probably have a lot more traditionalists and conservatives that are already resonating and connecting to the Republican platform than any other racial group we’ve been connecting with.”

Notably, the state’s first Korean-American General Assembly member, B.J. Pak, is a Republican. Pak is also thought to be the first Asian-American Republican to be elected to any state legislature in the region.

Democrats, too, are making their own push in Georgia, and their efforts are as varied as the community they’re trying to reach. The party has two co-chairs for its Asian-American and Pacific Islander Caucus, a Korean-American and an Indian-American.

Aside from voter registration drives, the party and others involved in the community have organized meetings with local officials and business leaders in a “bridging the gap” efforts, as Tim Hur, one of the co-chairs of the party’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander Caucus, put it.

“As the population grows, there’s always a rough period,” Hur said. “We have a lot meetings with officials to tell them that, ‘Hey, we’re not going anywhere.’”

Hur had an unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination for House District 105, losing to Renita Hamilton 61%-39% in May.

Because Asians come from many different countries and backgrounds, it’s possible they won’t become the unified voting block in the way African Americans have. While the group tends to favor Democratic candidates now, it’s possible that the GOP could make significant inroads. As the Pew story notes, two of the South’s Republican governors, Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley both hail from Asia.


  1. jh says:

    Immigration is a big issue in this community. A lot of people want to and have trouble bringing over family members, or have family members that are undocumented.

      • jh says:

        I think Obama’s planning something after the elections to legalize all of the Hispanic construction workers I see in Brookhaven if that’s what you mean.

        Regarding Georgia’s Asian population, I believe the Vietnamese are Republican leaning (Vietnam war, communism), but they are not as civically engaged due to less education attainment. Korean Americans are more Democratic across the nation, but the Asian representative from Georgia is a Republican, and Korean Americans in Georgia seem pretty religious.

  2. greencracker says:

    Jindal and Haley don’t “hail” from Asia any more than I do. They were both born in the states. Their parents might hail from Asia, I don’t know. If they are only a few generations from the old country, sure, they were probably exposed to a good bit of Asian culture. But they’re still natural born Americans.

    • Jon Richards says:

      One of the issues with engaging minorities in a political party is that they are less willing to get involved until they see people that look like them get elected. This, of course, is a chicken and egg problem, since party involvement is a big boost towards getting elected.

      So even though Haley and Jindal aren’t first-generation immigrants, they can help getting others involved with the party.

  3. Joash Thomas says:

    As a South Asian American Republican myself, I would love to see more GOP Minority engagement towards Asian Americans. We could maybe take a page or two from the Dems on this by having 2 Asian American Engagement Co-Chairs from different ethnic backgrounds.

    • jh says:

      Based on national polling, Indian Americans, who have a sizable population in Atlanta, as well as Muslim Americans, generally prefer Democrats, so it is interesting to see Jindal and Haley as Governors.

      • Joash Thomas says:

        Very true. In my opinion though, most Indian Americans have a lot more in common with the Republican Party’s conservative values but still overwhelmingly vote Democratic because they see more diversity there. Like Jon mentioned, a good chunk of ethnic groups vote for candidates that look like them. Indian Americans unfortunately tend to be one of those groups.

  4. saltycracker says:

    We should have fixed the immigration laws long ago as amnesty encourages more disrespect for our laws. Got a job, supporting a family, no criminal record, give them a card.

    We should be ok with organizations expressing special interests but should never politically redistrict for race, religion, culture or party affiation.

  5. MikeS says:

    The Koreans in Gwinnett are not fully engaged by either but for the most part there are pro bussiness and appreciate the high quality education in Gwinnett. There is no reason it would not be easier for the Republicans to win their vote. The Democrats have nothing to offer except for that paradise called Dekalb.

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