Dr. Taeku Lee Posts

Asian American Voters in the 2016 Election, Part 2

Our first installment on Asian American voters reviewed the potential for this often disregarded group to be pivotal in 2016 and reported findings from the most recent survey of their vote preferences in this year’s presidential and Congressional races. Asian American voters, in sum, find overwhelming favor with Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump and with Democratic congressional candidates over their Republican counterparts. To review: in the race to be our 45th president, Clinton outpolled Trump 63% to 17% (or a two-way split of 78% to 22%). In down-ballot congressional races, Democrats were favored over Republicans by a 59% to 21% margin (or a two-way split of 74% to 26%).

This second installment dives deeper into the data from the Asian American Decisions (AAD) pre-election poll – to examine some reasons why Asian American voters appear to so heavily favor Democratic candidates again in 2016. Specifically, this post examines reason-based and feeling-based sources of their support for Clinton and Trump. Do Asian American voters feel pulled between the dictates of their mind and the beguilements of their heart?

Issue Salience and Party Proximity

In most years and for most elections, political scientists often think about a citizen’s vote choice as an informed, rational choice between two candidates, much in the same way that we might shop for something. With shopping, we might first ask what goods we should shop for, and then ask which of the products available better suit our needs and preferences. Carrying this analogy over to elections, we would first find out what a voter cares most about and then ask which candidate or party is closer to his or her views on those issues. The AAD survey followed this line of thinking by asking respondents: “Thinking about the 2016 election, what are the most important issues facing the United States that our politicians should address?” and for those issues mentioned, following-up by asking “which party is closer to your views?” and “which presidential candidate is closer to your views?”

 

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Figure 1 shows the distribution of answers to the first question, tallying up to two “most important” issues respondents mentioned. As in previous surveys of Asian Americans and with the general views of all Americans in other polls like Gallup, the economy continues be topmost in the minds of problems mentioned. Nearly 1 in 2 respondents mentions the economy or jobs as one of the two top issues facing the nation. After the economy, Asian Americans are most concerned about terrorism and national security (29%), politics and government itself (19%), health care (17%), income inequality and poverty (16%), and race relations and racism (13%). Notably, while education and immigration are often considered core issues for Asian American voters, their salience in 2016 appears secondary to these other issues.

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When respondents were then asked whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is closer to their views on these most important issues, Clinton’s advantage over Trump becomes quite clear. With the sole exception of terrorism and national security, where 42% of respondents favor Trump’s views and 40% favor Clinton’s, Asian American registered voters’ views on their most salient issues align far more often with Clinton than with Trump. On the economy, Clinton is favored over Trump by a two-to-one margin; on health care and race relations, the advantage is roughly four-to-one; on income inequality and poverty, it is almost 10-to-1. Even on public outrage over politics and government itself, arguably Trump’s signature feature as an “outsider” candidate, Clinton enjoys a 59% to 42% advantage.

There is a clear take-away here: if Asian American voters are voting with their heads and on the issues, that calculus clearly favors Clinton over Trump.

The Year of Angry Voter?

Of course, 2016 may not be like most elections and most years. Much of the public accounting of this year’s campaign has been a story of angry voters using their ballots as battering rams against the gates of the DC establishment. So, how do emotions factor into the Asian American vote?

Here, the AAD poll asked respondents if either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, “because of the kind of person s/he is or because of something s/he has done or said” had made them feel one or more of the following: angry, afraid, hopeful, or proud.

The AAD poll finds that Asian American registered voters, like the rest of the nation’s electorate, have been roused by this year’s campaign. Roughly 3 in 4 respondents answered that Donald Trump had evoked feelings of anger (79%) and fear (73%), while only 23% felt hopeful and 14% proud in response to Trump. On Clinton’s ledger, a substantial number of respondents too felt anger (43%) and fear (34%), but unlike Trump, an even greater share of respondents felt proud (48%) and hopeful (55%) in response to her candidacy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Asian American women are especially likely to attach positive feelings to Clinton’s candidacy: 65% report feeling proud and 70% hopeful, compared to only 37% and 49%, respectively, for Asian American men.

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What makes these contrasts in emotions even more powerful is the difference it makes in the likely votes of Asian Americans. The effect of negative sentiments toward Trump and positive sentiments toward Clinton in Figure 3 are unsurprising and near totalizing: Asian Americans who are made fearful and angry by Trump are nearly uniformly disposed to vote for Clinton (93%); Asian Americans who are made hopeful and proud by Clinton fall just shy of unanimous in their intent to vote for Clinton (99%). More notable is the difference between positive feelings for Trump and negative feelings for Clinton. Even among Asian Americans who feel the swell of pride from Trump, only a minority (38%) expect to vote for him; with hope, the proportion is an even smaller 21%. By contrast, even among those who feel anger and fear from Clinton, a majority expect to vote for her (57% and 52%, respectively).

(Never) Mind the Gap!

The results of the AAD pre-election poll show some of the foundation for the likely lop-sided Asian American vote in favor of Democrats this coming election Tuesday. Clinton nearly runs the table on the issues that matter most to Asian American registered voters, but for Trump’s slim advantage on the issue of fighting terrorism and national security. Morover, in the clash of sentiments, negative feelings against Trump and positive feelings toward Clinton are nearly perfectly associated with the intent to vote for Clinton. The flip side of the coin – positive feelings toward Trump and negative feelings against Clinton – do not have nearly the same relationship to intent to vote for Trump.

As a final share-out for this blog, these advantages Clinton holds helps to shed light into why there is no apparent “enthusiasm gap” among Asian American registered voters. The narrative of voters who see Clinton as a lesser of two evils and who support her only begrudgingly does not seem to hold for Asian Americans. Both Clinton supporters and Trump supporters in the AAD poll were asked “How enthusiastic would you say your support is”?

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In the first cut at this question, there is no visible drop-off in enthusiasm between respondents who expected to vote for Clinton and those who expected to vote for Trump. Fully 35% in the Clinton camp were “very enthusiastic” and another 32% were just “enthusiastic” in their support. On Trump’s side, 29% were “very enthusiastic” and 32% “enthusiastic.” In fact, if anything, enthusiasm among Asian American registered voters appears to favor Clinton over Trump. Figure 4 shows the levels of enthusiasm for three key groups of Asian Americans: Republicans who intend to vote for Trump, Democrats who intend to vote for Clinton, and non-partisans who intend to vote for Clinton. [N.B.: There is an insufficient number of non-partisans who intend to vote for Trump in this sample survey.] What the findings who is that enthusiasm is weakest among Asian American Republicans who favor Trump, with only 20% who are “very enthusiastic” and 38% who are “not too enthusiastic.” For Democrats supporting Clinton, 32% are “very enthusiastic” and another 38% are “enthusiastic. Even among non-partisans who support Clinton, the highest level of “very enthusiastic” is conspicuously higher at 36% than for Trump Republicans.

Coming Next

These findings on the role of voters’ salient issues, sentiments, and enthusiasm is the second in three installments about the Asian American vote leading up to Election Day. Next week’s final post will examine whether and how background characteristics like gender, age, ethnicity, and nativity shape turnout, vote choice, and mobilization. These results preview a major Election Eve poll that Asian American Decisions will conduct in partnership with Asian American and Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Fund and several other co-sponsoring organizations. The 2016 Eve poll will include a nationally representative sample of Asian American voters as well as oversamples in seven additional states: Florida, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. Findings from the Election Eve poll will be selectively released November 8th and November 9th.

Survey Details

This poll surveyed 300 Asian American registered voters who were randomly recruited from a list of registered voters to complete an online survey. The sample was restricted to the six primary Asian American groups, comprising 85% of the total U.S. Asian American population: Chinese, Filipinos, Asian Indians, Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese. Interviews dates were September 29 and October 13, 2016. The questionnaire was offered in English, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. 24% of the sample took the interview in a non-English language. The margin of error for the results is ±6 percent.

Asian American Voters In The 2016 Election

With the debates now in the rear view mirror and less than three weeks ahead before Election Tuesday, Asian American Decisions is excited to report out some fresh new results on where Asian Americans stand on this election. Media coverage of this long, rancorous, and at times closely contested election has been flooded with polling data that painstakingly and recurrently monitor small shifts in the expected vote among key demographic groups and in battleground states. Yet, until recently, there has been little coverage of one potentially pivotal group of voters among whom relatively little is known: Asian Americans.

Why Pivotal?

The case for Asian American voters to potential be the “margin of victory” in an election has been made before, but it is worth reviewing the basic elements of the case. First, Asian Americans are not only the nation’s fastest growing racial group (growing 43% between 2000 and 2010, for example), but they are also the fastest growing racial group among voters (adding an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 new voters in each of the last few presidential elections). Today, Asian Americans are not only a significant force in numbers in states like Hawaii, California, Washington, New Jersey, and New York, but they are also growing at astonishing rates in “new destinations” for immigration through the American South, Midwest, and Southwest.

The rubber of this growth in numbers hits the road to electoral victory in key battleground states. In Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the Asian American population has grown by more than 80% since 2010, outpacing the overall population growth rates for the U.S. Asian American population. In Virginia, Asian Americans are now 8 percent of the state population; in Nevada, they are almost at 11 percent. As the table below shows, the Asian American voter eligible population is substantial and rapidly growing across many key battlegrounds. As of 2014, in states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, they approach or exceed 100,000 in number.

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Vote Choice in 2016

In the last few weeks, some data on where Asian American voter stand in the 2016 election are finally emerging. Earlier this month, I worked with colleagues to release preliminary findings from the 2016 National Asian American Survey, a telephone survey fielded between August 10th and September 29th. The findings showed that Asian Americans appear poised to vote for Democratic candidates once again in overwhelming numbers.

This week, Asian American Decisions updates these data with the results of a more recent online poll of registered voters fielded between September 29th and October 11th, dates that are inclusive of the second presidential debate and the “Access Hollywood” videotape release on Donald Trump. On the top of the ticket, 63% of Asian Americans support Clinton, 17% Trump, 9% picked someone else, and 12% declined to state who they will support. The two-way split between Clinton and Trump is 78% to 22%. If the final tally approximates these figures, the Democratic vote share of Asian Americans will exceed their previous high water mark in 2012, continuing the steady upward trend in Democratic voting since 1992.

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Moreover, the figure below shows the same two-way split by party identification. While party voting remains salient, the difference between Asian Americans who identify as Republicans and Democrats is striking. Nearly 1-in-4 Republican identifiers report that they will cross party lines and support the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. On the other side of the aisle, a nearly negligible 3 percent of Democratic identifiers indicate that they plan to vote for Donald Trump. The results also show overwhelming support for Clinton over Trump among non-partisans who intend to vote, with Clinton enjoying a nearly 4-to-1 margin.

This rather one-sided support for Democratic Party candidates continues down-ballot. In Congressional races, 59% of Asian Americans would vote for Democratic candidates, 21% Republican candidates, with the remaining 20% who either did not know or declined to state their vote intention. The two-way partisan split for Congressional races is 74% to 26%.

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As with the presidential race, partisanship helps to sort how Asian Americans intend to vote in Congressional races. Here, expected cross-over voting among Asian Americans who identify as Republicans remains much higher than for self-identified Democrats, but the magnitude of this cross-over voting is somewhat less than in the presidential race. Nearly 1-in-6 self-identified Republicans plan to mark their ballots for a Democratic congressional candidate; less than 1% (!) of self-identified Democrats plan to cross party allegiances and vote for a Republican candidate. Non-partisan Asian Americans also heavily favored Democratic candidates, by a 2-to-1 margin.

Voter Mobilization

One of the keys to any election is voter mobilization. Given the remarkably high negative favorability ratings voters have given to both party candidates, turnout is likely to be even more important in 2016. Respondents in the Asian American Decisions poll were asked, “Over the past few months, did anyone from the Democrat or Republican party call you or come by your home to talk about this year’s election?” The findings show that, even into the waning weeks of the election, only a small fraction of Asian Americans are targeted for their votes: 22% indicated that they had received a call or a knock on their door. Of those, 47% were contacted by the Democratic Party, 14% by the Republican Party, and 39% by both.

The difference that contact makes shows both the potential for Democrats in 2016 to further consolidate their recent gains among Asian American voters and the uphill climb that the Republican Party faces. As the figure above shows, nearly 90% of Asian American registered voters who were contacted solely by the Democratic Party intended to vote for Clinton, while only 70% of those contacted solely by the Republican Party intended to vote for Trump; among those contacted by both parties, 89% percent intended to vote for Clinton. In the congressional races, this effect is even more pronounced, with 97% of those contacted by the Democratic Party reporting their intent to vote for Democratic congressional candidates.

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Preview

These findings on vote choice and voter mobilization are the first in a series of blog posts that will be forthcoming about the Asian American vote leading up to Election Day. Next week’s post will delve more deeply into why Asian American voters appear to so heavily favor Democratic candidates again in 2016. These results, furthermore, are a preview of a major Election Eve poll of Asian American voters that Asian American Decisions will be conducting in partnership with Asian American and Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Fund and several other co-sponsoring organizations. The Eve poll, is part of a series of surveys conducted of Asian American voters in the days prior to Election Day, conducted in parallel with the Latino Decisions Election Eve polls. The 2016 Eve poll will include a nationally representative sample of Asian American voters as well as oversamples in seven additional states: Florida, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

Survey Details

This poll surveyed 300 Asian American registered voters who were randomly recruited from a list of registered voters to complete an online survey. The sample was restricted to the six primary Asian American groups, comprising 85% of the total U.S. Asian American population: Chinese, Filipinos, Asian Indians, Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese. Interviews dates were September 29 and October 13, 2016. The questionnaire was offered in English, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. 24% of the sample took the interview in a non-English language. The margin of error for the results is ±6 percent.

 

 

From Marginalized to Margin of Victory

[Adapted from remarks delivered as featured speaker for the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Symposium in celebration of APA Heritage Month, 13 May, Washington, DC.]

With every new election cycle, there is always some new buzz about a segment of the electorate that politicians and politicos believe will hold the key to the election. As my children might put, who are the voters that hold the one ring to rule them all?

Macomb County Democrats. Soccer Moms. The Religious Right. Millenials. Independents. Latinos. And so on with prized segments of the electorate. We have been around this roundabout many, many times.

But one group that is almost never in the mix is the Asian Pacific American community.

Why is that? Of course it is not for a lack of desire to see more voters. We want all Asian Americans to vote. We want all Americans to vote.

But politics is, as former Raiders owner Al Davis might say, follows the credo to “Just win, baby.” And when you focus just on winning elections, here are some typical reasons that we have heard about why Asian Pacific Americans are not the prize in any given election.

First, they are too small of a group. Worse yet, the APA community is comprised of too many different groups, each of them too small to matter in any given election. The numbers here, to give this point some emphasis, have been so small that until only recently exit polls have been unable to report out voting results separately for Asian Americans as a group. And they still do not have the numbers to do so for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

Second, APAs don’t vote. And it is certainly true, when you look at Current Population Survey numbers, that Asian Americans (as a percentage of voter eligible citizens) vote at rates that fall substantially below whites and African Americans. The common corollary to this view is that this “under-participation” in elections is due to a lack of interest in American politics.

Third, we have all heard some version of something like an application of the stereotype of the “inscrutable Oriental.” That is, APAs are simply too hard to figure out as voters. They just don’t make sense.

Here is one example. The 2012 exit polls show Asian Americans to be a group that is overwhelmingly Democratic, voting for President Obama over GOP nominee Mitt Romney by nearly a 3 to 1 margin. But the 2014 exit polls show Asian Americans to be a group that is nearly perfectly split down the middle in their congressional voting, 49 to 50. Who on earth changes this dramatically over a two-year time span?

Of course, if you have been following Asian Americans Decisions polling, there is an important story about this apparent sea change in exit poll results, but the point here is that there are credible reasons why the APA vote might seem difficult to decipher. So if you are in the heat of a campaign and focused just on winning, you are not likely to expend precious time, effort, money, culturally appropriate messaging, and so on to target APA voters.

These are just three among a longer list of reasons why APA voters have been marginalized.

Why might this view be wrong? For at least three reasons.

First, the APA population is growing fast. Now, we all know this. In fact, we almost know it so well that we take it for granted. So let us revisit some of the key facts of this growth just to appreciate how dramatic it is.

Asian Americans used to be less than 1 million in number before the passage of immigration reform in the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act. Today, in a little over one long generation, they are well over 19 million. Sometime this year, perhaps even this very day, the 20 millionth Asian American in these United States will have been born or entered with papers through one of our airports or seaports.

20 million.

In fact, the population growth is so fast that it is literally outpacing Census Bureau predictions of that population growth. Here is an example. In 1999, the Census Bureau projected that the Asian American population pass the 18 million mark by 2020. As it turned out, the population exceeded that mark by 2012.

The pace of change is so rapid that Asian Americans are today the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in America. Between 2000 and 2010, the rate of growth for Asian Americans was 46 percent, outpacing Latinos, Pacific Islanders and any and all other groups.

Furthermore, since 2008, the largest feeder of population growth through legal immigration has Asia. For nearly as long as we have collected these data, the largest contributor had been the Mexico and Central America. But since 2008 more than 40 percent of total growth from in-migration has been of new Asian Americans.

The upshot of these growth rates is that sometime in the next few decades, Asian Americans will be 10% of the US population. One out of every ten Americans. Not just in Hawai’i. Not just in California. Not just in the New York / New Jersey area. In the entire United States of America, from Maine to Guam.

So while we all know the population is growing, it is important first to take not of the magnitude and pace of that growth.

A second reason why it might be wrong to ignore the Asian American vote is that the magnitude and pace of population growth has electoral implications. As a share of voters, AAs have been the fastest growing electorate since 1996—growing at a rate of 128% when counted in the Asian American “alone” bucket and at a rate of 149% when counted in the “alone or in combination” (with other racial groups) category.

In numbers, that is a jump from 1.7% of the electorate to 2.9% between 1996 and 2012, or from 1.7M voters to 3.9M voters.

What do these numbers look like when we drill down into specific jurisdictions in which the APA vote might be the margin of victory?

2008 to 2012 American Community Survey estimates show that, as a share of the voting age population, Asian Americans are 5-10 percent in 5 states, 40 counties, 58 congressional districts. They are 10-25 percent in 25 counties and 35 congressional districts. And they are more than 25 percent of the VAP in 8 counties and 10 congressional districts.

So, in 2012, there were 183 jurisdictions in which if you ignore APA voters, you increasingly do so at your own peril. And that is a number that will keep growing.

Take for instance, the 2014 Virginia Senate race. Virginia is a state where Asian American population just a hair above 5 percent of the electorate. Yet here is a state where Asian American voters were the margin of victory.

Here are the basic elements of that margin of victory. We know that Mark Warner edged out Ed Gillespie by only about 18,000 votes. We also know that according to the Asian American Decisions Election Eve poll, Warner won the Virginia Asian American vote by a nearly 40% differential over Gillespie, 68% to 29%. Add to these two facts some reasonable assumptions about drop-offs in turnout between 2012 and the 2014 mid-terms, and my estimate is that the Dem-Rep margin among Asian American voters in Virginia in the 2014 senate race is somewhere between 26,000 and 32,000.

Well above the 18,000 vote actual margin of victory. The bottom line is that if all Asian Americans in Virginia stayed at home last November, the election results would have favored Ed Gillespie.

And looking ahead into future elections, there are many other potential Virginias, where the path to victory or defeat will depend on successfully wooing and winning the Asian Pacific American vote.

Take politically prized states like Nevada and Florida, for instance. They already have sizeable Asian American populations (roughly a quarter million in Nevada; nearly 600,000 in Florida), these numbers are growing dramatically (between 2000 and 2010, 116% growth in Nevada and 72% in Florida), and both states have large numbers of unregistered voter eligible citizens (more than 37,000 in Nevada, about 200,000 in Florida).

One important way of summarizing how pivotal Asian American voters are becoming is well summarized by presidential hopeful and former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Speaking at an event on immigration reform at the Bipartisan Policy Center in 2013, Bush argued,

“Here is a group that has higher intact families, more entrepreneurial, higher than average incomes, higher college graduation rates … Asian Americans are actually the canary in the coal mine.”

The canary is the coal mine analogy is used here to make drive home the point that how the Republican Party does vis-a-vis Asian American voters is a diagnostic on how the party is doing as a whole.

A similar point might be raised about Asian Americans and the Democratic Party. Here is a group that supports the Affordable Care Act, comprehensive immigration reform, minimum wage laws, where even Asian Americans who earn over $250K a year are willing to support higher taxes for the rich to tamp down the federal budget deficit.

Yet as a group, majority of Asian Americans identify neither as Democrats nor Republicans. When asked the standard party identification question, the majority pick “Independent” or say they don’t know how to answer that question.

So, in a crucial sense, the health and long-term survival of BOTH parties depends on their ability to persuade Asian American voters to carry their partisan flag, something neither party has yet done convincingly.

Thus far, I have argued that today we avoid the APA vote at our own peril based on population growth and the political implications of that growth. To these points, a skeptic might say, “Well and good. But how do we do it?”

First, let’s recognize what the challenge is. Asian Americans represent a 4.3 million vote political opportunity gap. By Current Population Study figures, 3.9 million Asian Americans voted in 2012 and that is impressive and represents a substantial increase in voting numbers. But there were still 4.3 million Asian American adult citizens who sat out the 2012 elections. That is the challenge.

Now, on the “how,” there are at least three fundamentals to closing this political opportunity gap.

The first is to get more APAs registered.

One kind of retort is that Asian Americans under-participate because they are the heavily most foreign-born population in the US. And it is true that 2 out of every 3 Asian Americans are foreign-born; more than 3 out of 4 Asian American adults are foreign-born.

But we also know that Asian Americans, as a group, naturalize faster than most other immigrant groups when they are eligible for citizenship and that when registered, they tend to vote at nearly comparable rates to largely native-born groups like Whites and African Americans.

The major bottleneck is in getting APAs who naturalize as citizens to register to vote. Only 56% of Asian Americans and 58% of NHPIs who are citizens register to vote. That’s much lower than for Whites and African Americans. And so even if 85% of APAs who are registered turnout to vote, than means less than 1 in 2 APA citizens are voting.

A second fundamental is the reminder that becoming politically active does not happen on its own.

Decades of political science research have found time and again that there are three bedrocks to political participation:

  • Motivation: you’ve got to want to do it.
  • Means: you’ve got to be able to do it. You need basic political knowledge to vote, you need money to contribute, you need civic skills to organize your communities, and so on.
  • And last but not least, One of the surest ways of getting someone to register to vote and to turnout once registered is to ask.

As it turns out, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are generally asked less often to get involved in politics than whites, blacks, and even Latinos.

In targeted polls and field experimental studies of Asian Americans, that “ask” has demonstrable effects. APAs are more likely to register to vote, more likely to turnout, less likely to be uncertain about their likely vote choice, and so on.

To further reinforce a point that has already been made. This is not just about building more strength in numbers in states with already powerful APA constituencies like Hawaii, California, and New York. Increasingly, the numbers of Asian Americans who are not registered in states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Virginia, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania are surging. According to 2012 Current Population Survey figures, there were 3.6 million voter eligible Asian Americans who were not registered to vote.

A third fundamental on Asian American political empowerment is language. Asian Americans remain a population with very high rates of limited English proficiency, especially in some communities like Chinese, Koreans, and various Southeast Asian groups.

Among Asian Americans aged 5 and over according to Census data, 77% report speaking English at home and 47% report speaking English less than “very well.” These numbers translate into language barriers to political participation. For example, Asian Americans are more likely than any other group to report language issues as a major barrier to vote registration.

Moreover, access to in-language voter registration and voting materials remains a big problem. Surveys show that this is a problem even in electoral jurisdictions that have Section 203 coverage for language access. Among Asian Americans in covered jurisdictions who showed up at their precincts to vote, 45% reported having no language assistance. Perhaps even worse, among Asian Americans in covered jurisdictions who asked for a mail ballot and mailed-in their vote, 31 percent reported having no in-language materials.

So reaching out to Asian Americans, polling their views, printing their ballots in multiple languages is exceedingly important.

The main point here is obvious, but worth repeating. In 2015, you ignore Asian American voters at your own peril. This is a group that is 20M and rising.

In more and more districts, APA voters remain a largely untapped electorate. And they could be your key margin of victory.

Finally, tapping this pool of potential voters is not rocket science. There are 4.3 million potential Asian American voters who are waiting to be registered, waiting to be asked to get involved in elections, waiting for access to in-language election materials.

The APA electorate has been marginalized for far too long. It is time to bring this pivotal electorate out of the shadows and into the limelight. And what better time to commit to doing it than APA Heritage Month.

[See presentation deck HERE.]


Taeku Lee is Managing Director of Asian American Decisions, and Professor of Political Science and Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a renowned expert on racial and ethnic politics, Asian American politics and policy, opinion polling and survey research, and election law and political participation.


Asian American voters show strong support for immigration reform

President Obama’s use of his discretionary executive powers to address immigration policy this week will be seen by some as his fulfillment on a principled promise. Others will see it as a calculated overture to Latino voters, whose views on immigration are well defined and have clear consequences for the future success of the Democratic Party. How will it play among other segments of the electorate? Here we take a brief look at Asian Americans on immigration. We show some defining features about Asian Americans as immigrants, review their views on immigration policy, and examine whether their views on immigration are riven by partisanship.

Demographics

The demographics paint a clear picture: Asian Americans are a community of immigrants. A significant number of Asian Americans will be affected by the President’s announcement on immigration reform and deportation relief.

  • Roughly two-thirds of the Asian American population is foreign-born. Among the voting age population, this proportion is even higher, at close to four-fifths. By comparison, more than a third of the US Latino population is foreign-born (37%).
  • More new immigrants to the United States today come from Asia than any other part of the world. Since 2008, more than 40 percent of new legal permanent resident admissions have been from Asia, a figure that eclipses the rate from our neighbors to the South (only 25 percent of new legal migration since 2008 has been from Mexico and Central America).
  • Roughly one in every nine undocumented immigrants is Asian American. In 2011, an estimated 1.3 million Asian Americans were unauthorized, with roughly 280,000 from China, 270,000 from the Philippines, 240,000 from India, 230,000 from Korea, and 170,000 from Vietnam.

Public Opinion

While a forceful majority of Asians in America are immigrants, immigration is not the single defining issue in their politics and policy opinions. At the same time, Asian Americans view immigration as very important to their politics and support immigration reform at high levels. Data here are from the 2014 Asian American Election Eve Poll conducted by Asian American Decisions just prior to the recent mid-term elections.

 

  • The issue salience of immigration is high, but not foremost among all concerns. When asked what are “the most important issues facing the Asian American community that politicians should address?” 13% mention immigration. Immigration is the fourth most commonly mentioned issue after the economy and jobs (32%), education and schools (22%), and health care (18%).
  • Immigration is also important to how Asian Americans decide to vote: 17% rated immigration as “the most important” issue while another 30% rated it as “one of the most important” issues. At the same time, immigration is not as key to the Asian American vote as other issues: asked about health care, 40% rated it as “the most important” issue and another 33% rated health care “one of the most important issues.”
  • Asian Americans support comprehensive reform that would “include an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States” by more than a 2-to-1 margin (60% are supportive; 26% opposed; the remainder undecided).

 

Partisanship

 

Partisanship is increasingly the primary refracting lens through which the American public sets its opinions on issues like immigration. For Asian Americans, however, the 2014 Asian American Election Eve Poll shows less of a polarizing role of partisanship on immigration.

 

  • The salience of immigration as “the most important” issue facing Asian Americans is comparable between Democrats (12% mention immigration), Republicans (15%), and non-partisans (13%).
  • Immigration is also mentioned as a “most important” issue in Asian Americans’ vote choices at comparable levels between Democrats (15%), Republicans (14%), and non-partisans (17%). These differences for both general salience and electoral salience are within the poll’s margin of error.
  • The biggest differences are on comprehensive reform and a pathway to citizenship. Here support among Asian American Democrats is quite one-sided (76% support it; 17% are opposed; the remainder undecided). Yet even among non-Democrats, supporters of comprehensive reform outnumber opponents; for Republicans, 47% are supportive, 34% opposed, and 19% undecided; for non-partisans, 51% are supportive, 33% opposed, and 16% undecided.

 

A Few Final Thoughts

 

This week’s announcement from the White House is, on a long view, merely the latest thrust in an enduring and deeply partisan joust on immigration reform. How the Republican-led legislative branch will now parry back and what consequences that will hold for the future of comprehensive reform and the 2016 elections remains to be seen. What is evident is that President Obama, even more forcefully than with his 2012 executive order on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has taken the offensive. Whether his actions are driven by principled politics or a cold electoral calculus, Asian Americans – as a growing segment of the electorate that is overwhelmingly immigrant, strongly supports comprehensive reform, and already approves of the President’s job performance at rates that comfortably exceed that of the general public – are likely to welcome the President’s initiative.


 

Dr. Taeku Lee is Managing Director of Asian American Decisions, and Professor of Political Science and Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a renowned expert on racial and ethnic politics, Asian American politics and policy, opinion polling and survey research, and election law and political participation.

Did Asian Americans switch parties overnight? No.

This article originally appeared at the Monkey Cage Blog at The Washington Post

Buried in the blue and red bars of the exit poll results from Tuesday’s midterm elections is an astonishing figure. Asian Americans were nearly evenly split in their voting in congressional races: 50 percent to 49 percent, with a nod to Democrats by the faintest of recordable margins. Why is this astonishing? Because just two years ago, exit polling showed that Asian Americans broke overwhelmingly in favor of the Democrats — 73 percent to 26 percent.

Such a reversal of partisan fortunes is all the more astonishing given the long-term increase in Democratic voting among Asian Americans — only 31 percent of whom voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. No wonder, then, that there already are headlines such as “Republicans Courted Asians, and It Paid Off.”

Is this 50 percent figure believable? Exit polls, after all, are known for the occasional bad calls, sometimes with decisive and notorious effect, as in the 2000 and 2002 elections. But are exit polls especially prone to getting the Asian American vote wrong? The answer is a clear, resounding “yes.”

Exit polls are not designed to produce representative samples of groups within the electorate, such as Asian Americans. Warren Mitofsky, the “godfather of exit polls,” noted that errors in such polls “appear mostly among demographic groups that are both relatively small and those that tend to be geographically concentrated” — in other words, groups such as Asian Americans. Indeed, with regard to another such group, Latinos, the exit polls have missed the mark with some regularity. In 2004 and 2010, such polls mischaracterized the Latino vote badly (see herehere and here).

But are the 2014 estimates for Asian Americans similarly flawed? The sample size for Asian Americans was 304.  If that is indeed the sample size, it is conspicuously small, with a margin of error that could approach 11 percent given the sampling design of the exit poll.

And if that is the correct number of interviews, Asian Americans were vastly underrepresented. According to available information, the total number of interviews in 2014 was either 19,441 (among precincts chosen for the national sample) or 29,581 (if over-samples in Colorado, Georgia, Iowa and North Carolina are added). This means that Asian Americans were only between 1.0 percent to 1.5 percent of the entire sample — even though the people behind the exit poll estimate that Asian Americans were actually 3 percent of all voters (see here).

But sample size cannot be the sole culprit. Another part of the story involves the precincts that were selected to be polled and the characteristics of Asian Americans in those precincts. Although Asian Americans vote Democratic by a wide margin, they do not do so everywhere.

For instance, in this year’s Asian American Decisions poll on election eve, Asian Americans in Virginia voted heavily for Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) instead of Ed Gillespie (68 percent to 29 percent), while Asian Americans in Texas split evenly between Democrat Wendy Davis and Republican Greg Abbott (48 percent to 48 percent) in that state’s governor’s race. A full post-election analysis requires knowledge of which Asian Americans the 2014 NEP polled and where — facts that are not at present publicly available.

Surveys such as the exit poll, which is not designed to achieve representative samples of groups such as Latinos and Asian Americans, must rely on weighting and sheer luck to get it right. By contrast, surveys of Asian Americans such as those conducted by Asian American Decisions, the National Asian American Survey and the Pew Research Center, which are designed to produce a representative sample, offer a more consistently accurate picture of these groups.

For instance, the Asian American Decisions poll interviewed 1,150 Asian Americans in six languages (English, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Hindi) — including a nationally representative sample of 770 respondents and an oversample of 380 respondents for state-specific analysis of Asian Americans in California, Texas and Virginia.

From this data, we find that in the 2014 congressional elections, 66 percent of Asian Americans voted for the Democratic candidate. By comparison, in 2012, the Asian American Election Eve Poll found that a 73 percent of Asian Americans had voted Democratic in congressional races.  This suggests a much more modest shift toward Republican voting among Asian Americans.

The bigger question is whether this is a real trend or whether Asian Americans, like most demographic groups, were just more likely to vote Republican in this one election.

[Correction: An earlier version of the post, citing this article, said that the exit poll may have yielded only 129 interviews with Asian Americans. Scott Clement of the Washington Post’s polling operation has confirmed that the correct sample size is 304.]

 

Dr. Taeku Lee is a professor of political science and law at the University of California at Berkeley and managing director of Asian American Decisions.  He can be reached at: taeku.lee@asianamericandecisions.com

2014 Midterms: Patterns and Paradoxes in Voting Among Asian Americans

As the November 2014 campaign season draws to a close, political sabermetricians have more or less converged on a common set of expectations about particular races and how the fate of partisan politics hangs in the balance. Yet keen eyes remain focused on some unknowns. Which way will the pendulum swing for Independent voters this time? Will Latinos respond to broken promises and legislative shirking on immigration reform through exit, voice, or loyalty? What about the clout of Tea Party supporters? One relatively less intently watched group is Asian Americans voters. For reasons argued below, however, they are in respects a bellwether for electoral change in America.

20 Million and Growing

The mere mention of “Asian American voters” might strike some readers as failing to measure up to the threshold of notice on Election Day. Asian Americans, after all, remain relatively small in number and, given the high proportion of foreign-born within their ranks, an even smaller number among voters. In specifics, Asian Americans today are six percent of the U.S. population, or close to 20 million persons (data are December 2013 Census estimates for the more inclusive “Asian alone or in combination” count). The ranks of Asian Americans among voters are even thinner, once nativity, naturalization, and barriers to voter registration and turnout are taken into account. Fully three out of every four Asian Americans were born outside the United States. Nearly two out of every three Asian American citizens gained their eligibility to vote through naturalization. And in 2012, Asian Americans represented just 2.9 percent of the turnout.

Though small, these numbers are not negligible. For one thing, no other racial/ethnic segment of the U.S. population has been growing faster than Asian Americans. Between the 2000 and 2010 decennial censuses, the U.S. Asian population grew 46 percent; Latino population growth came in a close second at 43 percent. In fact, Asia is now the largest source of population growth through in-migration to the U.S.: since 2008, Asia has accounted for more than 40 percent of new immigrants to the U.S.; by comparison slightly over 31 percent during this period have come from Mexico, Central America, and South America. These growth rates are reflected in voter turnout: as recently as 1996, Asians were only 1.6 percent of votes counted; that proportion nearly doubled by 2012. As of 2012, Asian Americans were more than 10 percent of the citizen voting-age population in two states, 33 counties, and 45 Congressional districts. And growth is expected to continue into the foreseeable future: by 2050, the U.S. Asian population is forecast to nearly double to close to 36 million in number.

Turning Blue?

Population counts and even voter turnout rates, in a sense, are just the raw materials for a given election. What makes Asian Americans especially interesting going into the 2014 midterm elections is the shape that these raw materials have taken. In a 2012 election when many demographic groups voted more Republican than they did in 2008, Asian Americans turned decidedly more Democratic. According to the National Election Pool (NEP) exit polls, 73% of Asian Americans voted for Obama in 2012, markedly higher than the 62% Democratic vote share among Asian Americans in 2008 and a gain for the Democrats that outpaced that of all other demographic segments. That Asian Americans should appear solidly and increasingly Democratic is especially notable over a longer view of elections. Over the past two decades, Asian Americans have had the biggest shift in presidential voting preferences of any demographic group that exit polls report on. In 1992, exit polls reported that only 31 percent of Asian Americans reported voting for the Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton.  Since then, this proportion has grown steadily and monotonically with each successive election to 43% in 1996, 54% in 2000, 58% in 2004, 62% by 2008, and the 73% figure for 2012.

These two background facts about Asian American voting – the high rate of Democratic voting in 2012 and the steady rise of Democratic voting since 1992 – might lead observers to close the book on Asian Americans as a now solidly “Blue” electorate. Such an inference is facile and premature. For one thing, the two facts sit rather uncomfortably with a third characteristic: Asian Americans tend not to identify with a political party. According to the 2008 National Asian American Survey, a healthy majority (55%) chose not to identify as either Democrats or Republicans; even a near majority of Asian American registered voters (45%) do not think of themselves in terms of a political party. Thus while for most Americans, party identification remains the single most defining marker of their political orientation and behavior, more Asian Americans opt out rather than opt in.

Moreover, for Asian Americans, the distant relationship between voters and the parties that are meant to represent and aggregate their political interests is a two-way street. Asian Americans’ relatively low rates of party identification are mirrored by relatively low rates of partisan mobilization of Asian Americans. In the 2012 National Asian American Survey, for example, only 31% of respondents reported being contacted by a party, campaign, or candidate, far lower than the 58% for a nationally representative sample from the 2012 American National Election Study. The most recent 2014 pre-election poll targeting Asian Americans found that only one in three Asian American registered voters reported being contacted by the Democratic Party and one in four by the Republican Party.

A Bellwether?

How does a group find its way to side staunchly with one party without the steady rudder of party identification to guide its way? With some careful analysis and due reflection, the evolving contours of Asian American politics are teeming with such puzzles. Asian Americans, as a group, are relatively high in socioeconomic status, yet they “under-participate” in politics. Asian Indians, with the highest median household incomes among Asian Americans, are the most one-sidedly Democratic; Vietnamese Americans, with one of the lowest median household income levels, continue to have some of the highest rates of Republican voting. Asian Americans are increasingly likely to view common political interests as a defining aspect of a shared Asian American identity, despite their conspicuous degree of within-group heterogeneity. And so on.

In deciphering these and other questions, Asian Americans have the potential to tell us about more than just themselves. Because Asians in the US, as a group, are so heavily foreign-born and in-migrate at such high rates, they represent a demographic exogenous shock of sorts. Our extant system of two-party competition (and the wounding polarization accompanying it) might work well to help most Americans sort themselves ideologically or exploit the reputational premiums of the parties, but what of newcomers? Out of the mismatches between the expectations of time-tested theories and the unfolding empirical patterns of a de novo segment of the electorate, arises a fresh and rare opportunity to examine elements of American politics as foundational as partisanship, participation, pluralism, and power.

Asian Americans, come Election Tuesday, will almost surely vote solidly Democratic. It is in the how and why they arrive at that outcome, however, that the most consequential elements of Asian American politics lie.