by Julia Tong, AsAmNews Staff Writer
A new survey has shed crucial light on the political priorities of Asian American voters, ahead of this year’s contested midterm elections.
Conducted by APIAVote in conjunction with AAPI Data, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), and MomsRising, the survey is the first in this year’s election cycle to provide disaggregated data on the party preferences and key issues of Asian American voters who are often overlooked by mainstream political groups.
According to Christine Chen, Executive Director of APIAVote, the Asian American Voter Survey was first created in 2012. The organization realized that AAPI voters were constantly being ignored in election cycles, exit polls and research, resulting in low engagement of AAPIs by both partisan and nonpartisan campaigns. The survey, now conducted biannually, was an essential step in closing that gap.
“Asian Americans are part of a diverse community comprising over 50 different ethnicities and 100 different languages, so it is critical that we conduct this survey every two years because often we are either left out of the polling data or considered an afterthought in the numbers that get reported,” Jiny Kim, Vice President of Policy and Programs at AAJC, said in a press release.
This year’s survey contacted 1,601 registered Asian American voters, representing the six biggest Asian American ethnic groups in the US— Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese—from April to June. The survey was also offered in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese, in order to reach the significant population of Asian Americans who are not comfortable speaking English. The resulting data is disaggregated by factors such as ethnic group, age, gender, country or birth region, and party identification.
Researchers found that the surveyed Asian American voters overall tended to favor Democrats over Republicans in a 2:1 ratio in both House and Senate midterm elections. Independent or undecided voters also reported leaning towards Democrats in the same ratio. However, disaggregating data reveals differences between ethnic subgroups: Indian Americans, for instance, tend to favor Democrats the most, while Vietnamese Americans tend to be split between both parties.
All Asian American groups, regardless of party affiliation, were affected by a critical issue underscored by researchers: the lack of outreach to Asian American voting communities.
Asian Americans are becoming more politically involved, having the highest midterm turnout gain in 2018, and also increasing turnout by 47% in the 2020 election. However, they are frequently overlooked during political outreach by major organizations. Despite being registered voters, 52% of survey respondents reported not being contacted at all by the Democratic Party, and 60% by Republicans; overall, 45% were not contacted at all by either major party.
“Asian American communities, despite the progress we have made and increasing political power, are still being ignored by many politicians, to their detriment,” Chen said at a virtual press conference for the survey.
To Janelle Wong, a senior researcher at AAPI Data, the results underscore a gap between Asian American voters and their engagement by mainstream parties.
“What we saw from our data is that Asian Americans continue to remain enthusiastic in terms of their interest in voting—we saw that more than two-thirds said that they were likely to vote in 2022,” Wong said. “[Asian Americans] are growing fast, they are turning out in record numbers, and yet we see that mobilization continues to lag.”
The lack of outreach to Asian Americans also results in misunderstandings of the policies and issues the group tends to prioritize. As Kim observes, mainstream understanding of Asian American politics is dominated by “specific things that get a lot of airtime,” such as the anti-affirmative action movement, or the model minority myth that Asians are not politically involved.
Anti-Asian hate crimes have also attracted significant attention after spiking during the pandemic and remain a significant concern in Asian American communities. The survey showed that 73% of voters reported being worried about discrimination and harassment. However, Wong cautioned against focusing exclusively on hate crimes, at the expense of the diverse and numerous issues affecting Asian American voters.
“Asian Americans are fairly expansive and they’re concerned…not only about hate crimes, but… about bread and butter issues having to do with whether they have Medicare going into the future, whether they are going to be able to retire, if they have enough financial security to retire,” she said. “Hate crimes remain important and there is worry, but there’s also a very broad agenda among Asian Americans.”
In fact, Asian American voters identified a wide range of pressing issues and policies. The top issue was healthcare, which 56% of voters indicated was “extremely important”—more so than headline news topics such as inflation or foreign policy. Other important issues that voters categorized as “extremely” or “very important” included jobs and the economy (86%), education (72%), environment and climate change legislation (75%), and gun control (73%), with voting rights and racism rounding out the top priorities.
The survey results also undermined assumptions made about Asian Americans, such as the misconception that they are against affirmative action. 69% of survey respondents favored race-conscious programs in higher education admissions, as opposed to 19% against. Asian American voters furthermore overwhelmingly supported teaching the history of Asian American and other non-white groups in public schools.
“You look at the survey data, and you see things like Affirmative Action…where there’s consistent solid support for [it], even though a lot of attention is given to a small minority who are opposed to it,” Kim said. “I would emphasize the need to understand the diversity of the community and understand where the actual voter’s preferences lie.”
Karthick Ramakrishnan, a co-founder of AAPI data, observed that the survey data rebuts the perception, fueled by the Model Minority myth, that Asian American issues are less important because they are more successful than average, or that they tend to be less politically involved.
“What our data over the years consistently has shown are that Asian Americans are actually racially progressive and they support, for example, criminal justice reform, they support greater civil rights for Black people,” he said. “So this notion that somehow there’s this kind of divide and conquer dynamic that is not only alive and well, but dominant in our communities—the data, consistently over the years, do not show that.”
Though Ramakrishnan clarifies that a minority of voters may support those issues, he adds that, “generally speaking, we don’t see Asian Americans as wedge issue voters. Even something like affirmative action does not rise to be a very important issue when it comes to vote choice.”
Ultimately, the survey is only the first step in further understanding the political stances of AAPIs. According to Chen, much work remains to be done. A comprehensive survey on Pacific Islanders and other Asian American groups is needed. Furthermore, language access remains an issue: 77% of voters surveyed spoke languages other than English at home, and a third of Asian Americans have limited English proficiency. To help rectify this issue, APIA Vote aims to raise funds to reach over 700,000 Asian households with translated, state-specific mailers, on top of continuing their Asian voter hotline for assistance in specific languages.
Still, the survey remains an essential, and much-needed, source of information on the actual needs and priorities of Asian American voters.
“Asian Americans are a more and more influential voting block and lawmakers would be wise to pay attention to our concerns,” said Gloria Pan, Senior Vice President of MomsRising. “Gun safety is especially important to this community, as are federal investments in the kind of care infrastructure President Biden and congressional Democrats are still trying to pass, and moms and families urgently need: paid family and medical leave, child care, and home- and community-based services.”
“The results of this survey provide a roadmap for how to address the issues the Asian American community prioritizes.”
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