A voting sign from 2005 welcomes Asian American voters to the ballot box in California. Image: Flickr user hjl

Key Statistics on Voting Behavior among Asian Americans

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The Asian American and Pacific Islanders population has grown faster than any other racial group in America; between 2000-2010 this population grew at a rate of 46%. One hundred years ago, as a result of exclusionary legislation in the United States, Asians in America comprised small numbers of immigrant men from Japan and China who settled predominately in California, New York, and New Jersey. Today, the Asian American population includes 22% Chinese, 20% Indian, 18% Filipino, 11% Vietnamese, 10% Korean, and 5% Japanese, and its voting behavior was a subject of great national interest in recent 2012 presidential election analysis. Recent polls indicate increasing Asian American support for the Democratic Party. Pre- and post-election analysts in the Pew Research Forum and the National Asian American Survey (NAAS) have focused on whether there is an “Asian American” voting pattern. Below is a brief analysis of polling data on the population distribution of Asian Americans in battleground states; political party affiliations; percentages of Asian Americans who are eligible to vote; the extent to which Asian Americans are mobilized to vote; platforms or issues that capture the most attention; and the relationship between Asian American voting behavior and interest in US foreign policy vis-à-vis Asia.

1. Key Battleground States One in six Asian Americans (17%) lives in electoral battleground states.[1] Of those, the fastest growth rates of Asian American populations are in Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia—116%, 85%, and 71%, respectively. Indian and Korean Americans comprise a larger share while Chinese and Filipino Americans comprise a smaller share of the battleground state populations.

2. Political Party Affiliations Hmong, Indian, and Korean Americans tend to identify with the Democratic Party whereas Filipino and Vietnamese Americans identify with the Republican Party. When combined, the percentage of Asian Americans who choose not to identify as either Republican or Democrat is greater than the national average of self-identified independent voters at 51% and 40% respectively. Asian Americans also had a more favorable impression of President Obama and Democrats in Congress than the national average—59% to 50% for the president and 43% to 34% for Congress.[2] Furthermore, Obama drew a disproportionate share of support among young Asian American adults—73% of likely voters aged 18-34.

3. Eligibility to Vote In 2008, the American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 70% of adult U.S. Asians are either U.S.-born or naturalized citizens and, of the foreign born, only 59% of U.S. Asians are naturalized citizens and thus eligible to vote. While this narrows representation—a concern that is being addressed especially by community groups—studies show that Asian Americans who were eligible were as likely to vote as other American citizens, that is, at a rate of about 70%.

4. Mobilizing the Vote Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Americans are most likely to be contacted to “get out the vote,” whereas according to survey results, Indian Americans were not targeted to the same degree. While it is not clear how mobilization efforts influenced voting behavior, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) celebrated the unprecedented number of newly-elected Asia American and Pacific Island members of Congress in 2012: Senator-elect Mazie Hirono (HI), Rep-elect Tammy Duckworth (IL-08), Rep-elect Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Rep-elect Grace Meng (NY-06), Rep-elect Mark Takano (CA-41), and Rep-elect Ami Bera (CA-07) will all join Senator Daniel K. Inouye (HI), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32), Rep. Mike Honda (CA-15), Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01), Rep. Doris Matsui (CA-05), and Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03).

5. Platform Issues Priority issues among Asian Americans were similar to those of the rest of the population, focusing on the economy and jobs, followed by health care and education. While Asian Americans generally have high rates of educational attainment—86% completed high school and 49% have a bachelor’s degree or higher—a challenge to the “model minority” myth is the fact that Southeast Asian groups have rates of high school completion that are well below the national average of 85%, with 61% for Hmong, 62% for Cambodians, and 72% for Vietnamese. Furthermore, those Asian American citizens who have health insurance varied widely across groups.

6. Transnational Relationships Asian Americans who follow events in their countries of origin tend to be the ones who are the most engaged in the American political process.[3] According to the 2012 NAAS report, “Transnational political activity appears to boost participation in America … [and citizens who] followed U.S. foreign policy in their countries of origin were 4 percent more likely to be registered to vote and 8 percent more likely to have reported voting in the [previous] 2008 elections.”[4]

Taken as a whole, it is clear that a mosaic is beginning to emerge of an increasingly active Asian American population, and it will be interesting to see how these constituents will impact the U.S. political landscape in the future.

Professor Peg Christoff is a Lecturer in the Department of Asian & Asian American Studies at Stony Brook University.

[1] The following are considered battleground states: Ohio, Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Nevada, and North Carolina.

[2] To prepare this report, the author gathered analyses from newspapers across the United States as well as from Asian American listservs; a post-election panel discussion sponsored by the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American program, “From Protest Movements to Mainstream Politics” (November 14, 2012); from the National Asian American Survey’s “Public Opinion of a Growing Electorate: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2012” (October 8, 2012) and from the Pew Research Center’s “The Rise of Asian Americans” (June 19, 2012).

[3] Engagement includes contacting elected representatives, attending political rallies, and contributing both through volunteerism and monetary support to political campaigns. Again, this is somewhat lower for Southeast Asian groups.

[4] “Public Opinion of a Growing Electorate: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2012” op.cit, page 29.