The number of Chinese-Americans registered to vote in Monterey Park has increased by nearly 1,250 in four years, but the Democratic Party has netted just seven new members.
Republican registration among Chinese increased by 572 during the same period, while 663 did not list a party affiliation. Only 7% of all voters in the county list themselves as nonpartisan, but 30% of the city's Chinese voters are in that category.
These are a few of the facts gleaned from new data just released by the Asian Pacific American Voter Registration Project, which is headquartered in Monterey Park and promotes Asian political participation.
Registering new voters and getting them to the polls is the nonpartisan project's primary mission, but it also promotes political research.
Mary Chu, project organizer, said comparatively little is known about Asian voters. It is not clear, for example, whether those who register as nonpartisan are conservative or liberal. So little research has been done on Asian voting patterns, Chu said, that it is not even clear whether Asians are a politically cohesive group.
As its first research effort, the project, in cooperation with the Southwest Voter Research Institute of San Antonio, conducted an exit poll at the Monterey Park municipal election in April. The project also analyzed surnames of all registered voters to determine party affiliation of each ethnic group.
Researchers polled 433 Chinese, 335 whites, 267 Japanese, 259 Latinos and 60 members of other Asian-Pacific ethnic groups as they left polling places. They interviewed 1,354 of the 8,285 people who voted. The exit poll provided an ethnic breakdown of the votes for each council candidate and showed how voters made their decisions.
The poll showed that voters of all ethnic groups were most influenced by personal contact with candidates and by campaign literature. English-language newspapers were a distant third as a campaign factor but were more important than the non-English media among all voters, including Chinese.
Don T. Nakanishi, assistant professor of education at UCLA and an adviser to the project, said the most significant finding was that Asian voters will strongly support Asian candidates.
Chinese Backed Chu
According to the exit poll, which researchers said had a margin of error of less than 7%, Judy Chu, the highest vote-getter in the election for two open council seats, received 88% of the Chinese vote and 75% of the Japanese vote while also drawing about one-third of the votes of Latinos and Anglos. Another Asian candidate, Victoria Wu, captured 22% of the Chinese vote but had little appeal among Japanese, Latinos and others. She finished last in the field of eight candidates.
Chu would not have been elected without strong Asian support. But because only one-third of the voters in Monterey Park are Asian, she also needed and got significant support from Anglos and Latinos.
Nakanishi said Chu's success shows that Asians will give solid support to a strong candidate of their own race. At the same time, he said, Wu's failure indicates that Asian voters do not automatically cast their ballots along racial lines.
Another key finding from the exit poll was that while the Democratic Party is strong in Monterey Park among Japanese, Latinos and Anglos, it is growing weaker among Chinese.
City Over 50% Asian
The Asian population in Monterey Park has increased by more than 70% since 1980 and now constitutes more than half the total population of about 62,877. Although the city has a long-established Japanese community, most of the newcomers are Chinese.
In June, 1984, the registration breakdown among Chinese voters in Monterey Park was 43% Democratic, 31% Republican, 25% nonpartisan and less than 1% split among minor parties. The total registration was 22,021. By November, 1987, the figures had shifted to 35% Republican, 33% nonpartisan, 31% Democratic and 1% minor parties. The total registration was 23,353.
Among Chinese participating in the April exit poll, 45% were Republican, 30% nonpartisan, 24% Democratic and 1% affiliated with minor parties.
Mary Chu, the project organizer, said the Republican gains could reflect the growing affluence of Chinese in Monterey Park and the tendency of those with wealth to join the Republican Party. She noted that the exit poll showed that Chinese had higher incomes and were better educated than other racial and ethnic groups in the city.
More Than Local Trend
But, Chu said, the reluctance to affiliate with either party is more than a local trend.
She said at least half the Asians who register to vote at swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens refuse to declare a party affiliation.
Chu said Republican support for free enterprise and a strong national defense and Democratic positions on immigration and civil rights both have special appeal to Asians, but neither party has made a concerted effort to get its message to Asian voters.
Michael Eng, who heads the West San Gabriel Valley Democratic Club and is married to Councilwoman Judy Chu, said anyone studying Asian registration patterns would have to conclude that "increasingly, the party of the future is Decline to State." He was referring to the voter registration category for those who are not members of a political party.
Eng said the party that controls the White House is usually the one in the strongest position to build its registration rolls. He said the fact that Republican gains have been small gives the Democratic Party encouragement that it might do better among Asians if it wins the presidency in November.
Mary Chu said it is not the national political scene or the parties but specific candidates and issues that stimulate political interest.
For example, she said, the candidacy of former Monterey Park Mayor Lily Lee Chen in the Democratic primary in the 30th Congressional District in June did not produce a victory for Chen, but it did succeed in registering many new Asian voters.
Although the project does not support political candidates, Chu said, "we want to push qualified Asian candidates to run because that is what gets people out there to vote."
Chu said her group is considering a registration drive in the Alhambra area before November's election because Asian candidates may run in city council and school board elections.
Chu said there are more than 700,000 Asians of voting age in California, but only half are registered to vote, and less than half of those registered get to the polls.
Because the intent is not just to swell registration rolls but to increase voter participation, Chu said, her group works with local community leaders on registration drives, instead of hiring solicitors, and sends volunteers door to door to explain voting procedures.
In the San Gabriel Valley, the project has concentrated its registration efforts so far on Monterey Park and Alhambra. Elsewhere, it has conducted drives in Gardena, Carson, Montebello and Koreatown, and is considering an effort that would focus on the Cambodian community in Long Beach.
The Asian Pacific American Voter Registration Project is funded by a coalition of Asian groups and by the Southwest Voter Registration Project, which shares the Monterey Park office and conducts voter registration drives in Latino communities. Chu said some people have been skeptical about Asian-Latino political coalitions because of socioeconomic differences, but she said the two groups have a lot in common on immigration, English-only and other issues.
The Southwest Voter Registration Project, which is headquartered in San Antonio, also helped fund a research study of Asian voters sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in 1986. Chu said Latinos and Asians have found a partnership in voter registration because both groups have similar problems.
VOTER PROFILE Profile of 1,294 Monterey Park voters surveyed by the Asian Pacific American Voter Registration Project after they voted in the City Council election on April 12. ANGLO: 335 Party affiliation: Democratic 59% Republican 35% Nonpartisan 6% Other 0 Age: Under 55 37% Over 55 63% Education: College graduates 41% Annual income: Under $50,000 67% Over $50,000 33% CHINESE: 433 Party affiliation: Democratic 24% Republican 45% Nonpartisan 30% Other 1% Age: Under 55 77% Over 55 23% Education: College graduate 71% Annual income: Under $50,000 49% Over $50,000 51% LATINO: 259 Party affiliation: Democratic 80% Republican 16% Nonpartisan 4% Other 1% Age: Under 55 55% Over 55 45% Education: College graduates 28% Annual income: Under $50,000 69% Over $50,000 31% JAPANESE: 267 Party affiliation: Democratic 60% Republican 30% Nonpartisan 10% Other 0 Age: Under 55 51% Over 55 49% Education: College graduates 42% Annual income: Under $50,000 54% Over $50,000 46%