By Brittany Chiu
Asian Americans as the Fastest-Growing Voter Bloc
Asian Americans are the fastest-growing voter bloc. The 2020 election cycle and the 2022 midterm election exit polls proved that there is much-untapped potential. If both parties do not pay enough attention to them, they have much to lose out in the future. According to the U.S. Census, the percent change of Asian Americans in population, whether alone or racially combined, grew 38.6% in a decade from 2010 to 2020. That is approximately 7% of the total population. This also meant a 9% increase in voter eligibility since 2018 when compared to Hispanics and Blacks. In other words, more than 13.3 million Asian Americans are 18 and older and able to vote.
Source: Pew Research Center
There has also been a notable increase in election participation among Asian voters. Almost half of all AAPI voters who cast a ballot in 2020 did not vote in 2016, and a quarter of them have never voted in an election before.
AAPIs can reconfigure the political map. In the previous Presidential election cycle, we saw an unprecedented spike in Asian voter turnout, since 2008, which flipped predictions 180 degrees. A huge factor contributing to voter turnout is AAPI hate. The 2020 American Voter Survey found that half of Asians, except for Vietnamese, strongly believe that there is some societal discrimination against Asian people. 75% of them worried about rising hate crimes as a result of COVID-19. 54% of the Asian respondents leaned Democrat and trusted Democrats to handle issues deemed most important to them at that time, e.g. gun control, crime and violence, and racial equity, better than Republicans. None is more evident in the Georgia runoff races. Traditionally a red state, Asian communities tipped Georgia blue, delivering 16 electoral votes to a Democratic President. It was the first time in 30 years that the Peach State had voted for a Democrat, and although AAPI voters comprise only about 4% of the state population, the 91% voter turnout increase was consequential, according to TargetSmart. Likewise, changing demographics are gradually impacting not only swing states but traditionally red states as well. Further breakdown of Asian ethnicities in the Asian American Voter Survey 2020 showed support for Biden as follows: Asian Indians (65%), Japanese (61%), Korean (57%), Chinese (56%), Filipino (52%), and Vietnamese (48%).
Shifting Battleground States According to Asians
Asians are mainly concentrated in the West and Northeast. 56% of the total population lives in these five states alone: California, New York, Texas, Hawaii, and New Jersey.
Source: Third Way
However, that doesn’t mean other pockets of Asian communities aren’t important. At first glance, it may seem like Asians are inherently Democratic, but when breaking them down by ethnicity and counties, Asians are not a monolith. It is pertinent to evaluate them by their needs and wants, locality, and culture.
Swing states have been historically different, but those essential to the 2020 presidential election were Nevada, Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, with Asian Americans constituting a critical mass in the latter three. Other states of significance when it came to other national elections include Virginia, Texas, and Florida. Let’s take a closer look at some states in 2020.
Virginia’s Asian population is about 25% Asian Indian, 15% Korean, and 15% Filipino. Asian Indians and Koreans mainly live in Fairfax and Loundon, thus turning the counties into Democratic strongholds in a predominantly Republican-leaning state. Filipinos on the other hand live mainly in the Virginia Beach MSA, especially in the heated 2nd congressional district where they make up an absolute majority of the Asian population, and they can skew either party.
Source: Third Way
Speaking of Filipinos, Nevada is probably the most well-known purple state, and more than half of the Asians who live there are Filipino. The state is neither deep blue nor deep red, meaning its voters tend to be more pragmatic than ideological, and there is no better characteristic that best describes Filipinos than pragmatism.
Source: Third Way
6% or 1.5 million Texans are Asians. About a third of that Asian population is Asian Indian and the second largest group is Vietnamese. They are mainly concentrated in Dallas MSA and Houston MSA. Although the Asian Indian population usually guarantees a solid Democratic win in Dallas, certain counties of Houston and Forth Worth where sizable Vietnamese communities dwell make these areas more purple than blue. In general, the political ideology of Vietnamese people skews more Republican than Democratic in areas outside of California.
Source: Third Way
Another swing state where Asians can make a difference in Georgia. Its Asian population is comprised mainly of one-third Asian Indians, 15% Vietnamese, and 15% Chinese and Korean combined. The increased Asian population of Georgia’s Gwinnett County has contributed to the flip from predominantly Republican to Democrat-leaning in the past decade.
Source: Third Way
Lastly, although the Midwest houses the smallest Asian population of any region in the country, public universities have attracted numerous Asian Indians and Chinese over the years, most of whom are heavily Democrat-leaning. For example, Indiana’s Hamilton County is only 7% Asian and mainly Republican, its large Asian Indian and Chinese are gradually tipping the county Democratic. Likewise, although Delaware County is 9% Asian, it is trending Democratic due to Ohio Wesleyan University and its Asian community.
Source: Third Way
The Red Wave That Never Came
The economy was the most important issue for a majority of voters in the 2022 mid-term election. 81% of likely voters from the final national NBC News November 2022 poll are somewhat dissatisfied with the U.S. economy. 47% wanted Biden to radically change the way he has been leading the country, and 70% believed that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Another poll, AP VoteCast, had more than half of likely voters that the economy and jobs were the most important issue. Among these AP Votecast respondents, their support for Republicans was a 2 to 1 margin. A third survey by Northeastern University had more than half of their likely voters prefer Republicans to take control of the Senate when it came to these issues regarding the economy and inflation. Democrats on the other hand were deemed better to deal with issues when it came to healthcare, climate change, abortion, gun control, and racial equality and so, more than 60% of the Northeastern University survey respondents preferred a Democratic-controlled Senate. Since the economy was the top-of-mind issue for most, many experts believed that a red wave would sweep across the nation.
However, as we have seen in election results, the red wave never happened. Victories were marginal, with the Republicans controlling the House and the Democrats ruling the Senate. This doesn’t mean that votes of color didn’t shift; it just didn’t shift Republican enough. According to most exit polls such as CNN, Democrats won among Black, Hispanic, and AAPI voters and that is mainly due to the younger demographic coming out to vote; however, Black, Hispanic, and Asian support for the Republicans jumped 4, 10, and 17 points respectively. Believing that minority voting blocs will be always more supportive of Democratic candidates is no longer a given. Slowly, more Asians are becoming Independent, if not Republican. Here’s why.
What Asians Want in 2022 and Coming
Though the majority of Asians tend to be Democrat-leaning, particularly Asian Indians, Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese, they are more sensitive when it comes to the change they want to be done and values inputted by candidates. Because economy and inflation take the front seat of debate and Democrats are deemed less capable of doing a good job at these issues, Asians are overall the most divided group on party identification. There has been a significant increase in the number of Independents to the previous election cycle. More efforts by either party will have to be pitched in to gain the trust of Asian voters.
In the Asian American Voter Survey 2020, 44% identified as Democrats, 31% as Republicans, and 23% as Independents. The majority of Asian Americans believed that Democrats did a better job in handling social issues such as healthcare, education, racial equity, and immigration. When it comes to jobs and the economy, 35% of Asian Americans preferred Republicans while 31% preferred Democrats and 22% of Independents believed that neither party produced any differences. This is in line with the current natural trend.
Key issues in order of importance to Asian Americans in the pre-election Asian American Voter Survey 2022 were healthcare (56%), jobs & economy (52%), inflation (52%), crime (49%), education (48%), gun control (46%), environment (42%), racism (42%), national security (41%), voting rights (39%), immigration (36%), economic inequality (31%), and foreign policy in Asia (23%).
Additionally, the number of those who identified as Republican dropped to 19%, and those who identified as Independent increased to 29%. There was no change among Democrat identifiers compared to 2020.
Specifically, there was a slight change in party evaluation when it came to jobs and the economy. Republicans are still preferred over Democrats; however, only 32% of Asians are confident in them. The support for Democrats remained relatively unchanged, while more Asians (30%) believed that neither party is good at handling this issue. Regarding inflation, most Asians were equally split between which party does a better job. More than 30% of Independents believed that neither party made a difference. Interestingly, an overwhelming majority of Vietnamese (41%) believed that Republicans were more capable of dealing with inflation than Democrats. When it came to crime, most Asians believed that neither party was equipped for dealing with the issue. Koreans, Japanese, and Asian Indians were more likely to believe Democrats as better at reducing the crime rate, while Filipinos and Koreans were more confident in Republicans. 35% of Chinese were Independent, believing there was no difference in either party. Again, the findings in the Asian American Voter Survey 2022 capture a small but accurate narrative of the red wave that never happened and the close battle between both parties—increasingly more Asians, akin to other groups, are unsure or lack confidence in either Republicans or Democrats to handle well a majority of issues.
Capturing the AAPI Voting Bloc
Despite the increasing importance of the Asian voting bloc, it has not received much attention from either party. According to the 2022 Asian American Voter Survey, 52% of Asian Americans received no contact at all from the Democrat Party, and similarly, 60% of Asian Americans received no contact at all from the Republican Party. For either party to gain a foothold in the long run, investing resources in AAPI engagement needs to be more proactive.
To increase Asian voter participation and turnout, campaigns and outreach groups need to do much more to provide Asian Americans with all possible information there is about the campaign and election process. There is much need to stress that Asian Americans are not a monolith voting bloc. Word of mouth through community outreach, friends, and family is the best way to reach general Asians. However, Vietnamese in particular are highly wary of digital misinformation, so they are less likely to view online election information sources as credible than other Asian groups. So communication needs to be tailored depending on the local Asian population.
Voting barriers also need to be addressed. Three barriers prevent a high AAPI turnout including language barrier, confusion over the signature, and lack of language support for mail voting.
The majority of Asian American eligible voters are naturalized citizens rather than U.S.-born. 57% of foreign-born Asians speak proficient English, and only a third of them speak only English in their homes. The most commonly spoken Asian languages are Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Hindi, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Korean.
Undoubtedly, the first barrier is language. Asian American voters have a high ballot rejection rate. There may not be enough in-language access services for election information gathering and the election process. Although the federal government does mandate states to provide language assistance when voting, not all states, and their counties provide every election resource in Asian languages, and not all languages are covered by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. This has led to past and ongoing voter suppression in several states.
The second barrier is signature. Not all immigrants have a signature and even if they do, the signature may be in their native language and illegible to the officer of elections. Name mismatches because transliteration is also common.
The third barrier is the lack of language support for mail voting. Since many Asians prefer mail voting, immigrants, without the help of their family or friends, may find the information obtainment and fill-in process complicated, particularly if there is no language access service. They become less confident to vote. In addition to the lack of language access services, there is also the fear of misinformation, especially during the 2020 presidential election and the debacle surrounding election fraud. The pre-election Asian American Voter Survey 2022 found that 51% of Asian Americans reported that they would prefer to cast their ballot by mail or ballot drop-off in the 2022 midterm elections. This may be attributed to the fact that mail voting is the default method for casting a ballot in the West where a significant number of Asians live.
In summary, Asian Americans are not only the fastest-growing voter bloc, but they are also political map shifters. History has seen record Asian voter turnouts in 2008 and 2020. Counties that traditionally had been easy to win are not so anymore as diverse Asian communities settle in. While it’s easy to think that they are a single, giant entity that is blue-leaning, current trends prove this to be a fallacy. Location, ethnic communities, and policies relevant to their communities all play a factor in whom they vote for. Increasingly more Asian Americans are politically active and both parties should pay heed to their voices.
- Inflation, economy, healthcare, crime/violence, and education are the top key issues for Asian voters in 2022.
- Asian voters remain divided on important key issues. While Democrats are perceived to do a better job with social issues such as abortion, immigration, etc., Republicans edge them out on most of the main issues of this election cycle.
- There is a gradual, slow shift of Asian Americans leaning Republican, despite Democrats having a stronghold on minority voters. When broken down by ethnicity, Asian Indians, Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese tend to be Democrat-leaning. Counties with college towns or growing cities/suburbs with significant Asian populations are usually bluer or are turning blue. Vietnamese are the most Republican-leaning, particularly those in Texas. Filipinos can skew either way, depending on where they live such as Nevada and Virginia.
- For Asian voters, word of mouth is the most important source of information. Family and friends are the most trustworthy sources of information, which is perhaps very different from General Market. Over half of voters said they had not been contacted by any party regarding election information and government policies. More than 40% of Asians would find it helpful if voting assistance was available in their language.
- Asian American Voter Survey (2022) APIAVote. Available at: https://apiavote.org/policy-and-research/asian-american-voter-survey/ (Accessed: November 21, 2022).
- Bonier, T. (2021) The Unprecedented Impact of the AAPI Vote on the 2020 Election, TargetSmart. Available at: https://insights.targetsmart.com/the-unprecedented-impact-of-the-aapi-vote-on-the-2020-election.html (Accessed: November 21, 2022).
- Exit Polls for Midterm Election Results 2022 (no date) CNN. Cable News Network. Available at: https://www.cnn.com/election/2022/exit-polls (Accessed: November 21, 2022).
- Im, C. (2022) Key Facts About Asian American Eligible Voters in 2022, Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center. Available at: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/10/12/key-facts-about-asian-american-eligible-voters-in-2022/ (Accessed: November 21, 2022).
- Martinez, M. (2022) Voters of Color Did Move to The Right — Just Not at The Rates Predicted, Politico. Available at: https://www-politico-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.politico.com/amp/news/2022/11/12/latino-voters-midterm-elections-republicans-00066618 (Accessed: November 21, 2022).
- Most Important Problems Facing The US Before The 2022 Midterm Election (2022) Most Important Problems Facing the US Before the 2022 Midterm Election | The COVID States Project. Northeastern University. Available at: https://www.covidstates.org/reports/most-important-problems-facing-the-us-before-the-2022-midterm-election (Accessed: November 21, 2022).
- Murray, M. (2022) NBC News Poll: Democrats Catch Up to GOP on Enthusiasm., NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/first-read/nbc-news-poll-democrats-catch-gop-enthusiasm-rcna55859 (Accessed: November 21, 2022).
- Saad, L. (2022) Economy Is Top Election Issue; Abortion and Crime Next, Gallup.com. Gallup. Available at: https://news.gallup.com/poll/404243/economy-top-election-issue-abortion-crime-next.aspx (Accessed: November 21, 2022).
- Understanding The Diversity of Asian American Voters (2022) Third Way. Available at: https://www.thirdway.org/report/understanding-the-diversity-of-asian-american-voters (Accessed: November 21, 2022).