Kelly Kim’s one day off from work happened to fall on the same day as the Nevada Democratic Party’s presidential caucuses this past Saturday. “I really want to vote,” Kim told me the day before an estimated 80,000 Democrats throughout Nevada headed to weigh in on the 2016 presidential primaries. But Kim had no plans to caucus. We talked while she stood behind the counter at Mr. Tofu, a Korean restaurant on Spring Mountain Road in Las Vegas. “I work six days a week,” Kim said. “I have Saturday off, and then I go to church.”
Presidential candidates, volunteers, celebrities, and reporters have descended on Nevada over the past week to capture this stop on the presidential primary tour. Campaigns run on a grueling and adrenaline-driven schedule. It’s democracy, and it’s also entertainment. (It’s also a business.) And in Nevada, immigrant communities come into rare focus as part of it all. Here and elsewhere, “immigrant” is typically understood as synonymous with Latino.
Yet thanks to recent flows of migration, Asians are now the fastest-growing racial and ethnic group in the United States. So on Friday morning I walked up and down Spring Mountain Road, the main thoroughfare for the city’s Chinatown, and in the evening posted up outside Seafood City, a major Filipino supermarket, to try to answer a few questions for myself: What about Asian Americans? Do they plan to caucus? Are they hearing from presidential candidates? Where do they fit into all of this? I heard versions of Kelly Kim’s story over and over as I spoke with nearly two dozen people. If it wasn’t church, it was typically work, or just plain disinterest. Or it just hadn’t ever come up.
Asians are 8.3 percent of the Nevada population (higher than their 5.4 percent share of the US population nationally) and 7.3 percent of Nevada’s electorate, according to the a voter engagement organization APIAVote. Between 2000 and 2010, the numbers of eligible Asian American and Pacific Islander voters in Nevada grew by 55 percent, much higher than the 35 percent growth of the statewide eligible voting population over the same time period. But by and large, it seems like the caucus flurry has floated right by many of the state’s Asian residents.
An obvious explanation is there’s also another way to look at the voting and population numbers. At 137,000 eligible Asian American and Pacific Islander voters in Nevada, they make up the smallest racial group here, smaller than the 166,000 eligible black voters, 328,000 eligible Latino voters, and 1.1 million eligible white voters. (Eligible voters are all those who are citizens and at least 18 years old.) Asians also historically have the lowest voter turnout rates. In 2012, 61.8 percent of the United States electorate cast a vote in the presidential election, but just 47.3 percent of the Asian electorate voted, which was a hair under the 48 percent of Latinos who cast votes, but far below the 64.1 percent of white voters who turned out and 66.2 percent of black voters who cast a ballot that year.