Texas demographers keep having to update their projections, as the population of the Lone Star State swells. The latest figures indicate Latinos will outnumber non-Hispanic white people in Texas by 2022. If you were with us Thursday, you heard how the midterms appear to have vindicated politicians’ efforts to court the Latino vote in Texas, but Latino isn’t the fastest-growing racial category; it’s Asian-American. The number of Asian-Americans in Texas has increased by 42 percent since 2010.
So how is this demographic change affecting Texas politics? Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan teaches political science and public policy at the University of California-Riverside, and is founder of aapidata.com, a website that publishes data on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. Texas has several communities with growing Asian-American populations, including Sugar Land, Frisco, Richardson and Plano. Ramakrishnan says
“Asian-American” is a large and diverse racial category that includes groups like Chinese-Americans, Indian-Americans, Vietnamese-Americans and Filipinos.
“The things that unites them all, ironically, it’s a relic of history: these were groups that were determined ineligible for U.S. citizenship up until the 1950s,” Ramakrishnan says.
But the categorization is not straightforward; it is complicated by the fact that Iranians, though they come from Asia, are classified as white because they were able to gain U.S. citizenship before other Asian-Americans.
“They’re considered white according to the U.S Census Bureau because they were eligible for citizenship, whereas Chinese were not,” Ramakrishnan says.
Asian-Americans are a diverse group in many ways, including religion and language, which means politicians have to take that into account during campaigns.
“You’re seeing candidates and campaigns getting into doing multi-language outreach,” Ramakrishnan says. “In the Sugar Land area, you had a candidate who spoke multiple languages and did outreach with his team in various languages.”
He says it’s up to the politicians to invest time into learning how to best communicate with these various groups.
A large portion of Asian-Americans are second-generation Americans or have high English-language proficiency, so Ramakrishnan says campaigns tend to focus on these sub-groups at the expense of reaching those who may be less proficient with English or who have been in the U.S. for less time.
“What a lot of campaigns do is they just look at prior voters and reach out to them, and they’re not paying attention to this new electorate that is growing pretty quickly,” Ramakrishnan says.
He says his data shows that Texas’ growing Asian-American population will have the greatest impact on local politics in places like Houston, Austin and the Dallas suburbs. In terms of statewide politics, Asian-Americans will start to have more influence on close races like the recent one for Senate.
“You will see people paying attention to the Asian-American vote,” Ramakrishnan says. “When it comes to very tight contests, every vote or every hundreds of votes matters, and so you’ll start to see that kind of attention.”
He says that’s already happening in the Houston metropolitan area where there’s been a large Asian-American population for a long time; he says they’re now becoming more “civically engaged.”
Nationally, Ramakrishnan says Asian-Americans tend to lean Democratic, but in Texas and the South, there’s less of an allegiance to one party over another.
“We’ve seen a much more competitive vote between Democrats and Republicans,” he says.
That’s in part, because Asian-American is the only racial group that’s composed of a majority of immigrants, which he says makes them “very persuadable.”
“They did not grow up in Republican households or Democratic households, so party investments will make a huge difference in terms of how they will vote in the future,” Ramakrishnan says.
Written by Caroline Covington.