Opinion | How Filipino Americans could decide the balance of the Senate

Opinion | How Filipino Americans could decide the balance of the Senate


ENTERPRISE, Nev. — There’s been a lot of talk about how Hispanics’ shift to the right could empower Republicans. But another ethnic group might also be crucial to deciding Senate control: Filipino Americans.

The demographic rarely gets the attention it deserves in terms of the increasing influence of Asian Americans in politics. In fact, it is one of the largest immigrant groups in the United States. More than 4 million Filipinos live in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s about 18 percent of all Asian Americans and the third largest Asian ethnic group behind Chinese and Indians.

Filipinos are especially numerous in the key swing state of Nevada. They comprise about half of the state’s Asian population, which cast 5 percent of the votes in the 2020 elections. Asians make up a larger share of the population in Las Vegas and its prosperous suburbs. They’re nearly 11 percent of Clark County, the county that houses the Vegas metro area, and 21 percent of the highly contested 3rd Congressional District. Quick math shows that Filipinos are between 5 percent and 10 percent of the adult population here, more than enough to tip a close election.

This group’s demographics and political history give hope to both parties. Working in Democrats’ favor are their relative education and wealth. Filipinos in the United States are highly educated, with nearly half holding a bachelor’s or postgraduate degree. They are also affluent, with a median annual household income of $90,400. White people with similar demographics have been swinging toward Democrats in recent years.

But the socio-religious background of many Filipino Americans gives Republicans hope. Filipinos are overwhelmingly Catholic, meaning they are relatively socially conservative. A 2012 Pew survey found that half of Filipino Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, a much higher share than among the nation as a whole. Filipino Americans are therefore likely to support the overturning of Roe v. Wade at much higher levels than White college-educated voters, making Democrats’ embrace of legal abortion problematic with this demographic.

This background is probably a reason Filipino Americans are more Republican than most other Asian groups. A September 2020 poll found that 28 percent identified as Republicans and 34 percent were planning to vote for President Donald Trump, second only to Vietnamese Americans among all major Asian ethnicities. This gives the GOP a stronger base on which to build.

Republicans in Nevada are trying to do that through targeted outreach and general messaging. GOP Senate nominee Adam Laxalt recently attended the National Federation of Filipino American Associations annual meeting, held in Las Vegas, and also published an op-ed in the Asian Journal outlining why Asian American voters should shift to the GOP. The Republican National Committee has also opened an Asian American community center as part of that effort.

So far, the data is mixed about whether Filipino Americans are shifting rightward. A national July poll found Filipino Americans have not moved to the right since 2020. But an analysis of national Asian American data by CNN analyst Harry Enten found a significant shift to the GOP. A recent Nevada poll conducted by Emerson College showed nearly 51 percent of Asian Americans approved of President Biden’s performance and 61 percent supported Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. The sample size for Asians was only 122, though, giving it a substantially larger error margin than for the survey as a whole.

Republicans may have a secret weapon, however: Filipino American patriotism. The Philippines was an American colony between 1898 and 1946, and the United States liberated the islands from Japanese rule with substantial Filipino support during World War II. The United States has been viewed extremely favorably in the Philippines, even during Trump’s presidency. Simply put, many Filipinos love America. That could make problematic Democrats’ willingness to tolerate, or in some cases embrace, elements in their coalition that view U.S. history harshly.

Terry McAuliffe’s debate gaffes in his 2021 gubernatorial run in Virginia over parental influence in education significantly increased Asian support for Republican Glenn Youngkin. A similar gaffe on U.S. culture and history by a Nevada Democrat could have the same effect.

Nevada’s swing state status and its mélange of ethnic groups make it a petri dish for election analysis this year. Don’t be surprised if the often-overlooked Filipino American vote proves decisive.

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