Asian-American Voters Could Swing November Elections

This fast-growing demographic group is largely ignored yet a sizable share hasn't decided how they'll vote, according to a new survey.
by | October 7, 2014

For the past few years, the Asian-American population has grown at the fastest rate of any race or ethnicity. At the same time, this group tends to be less aligned with political parties and not as engaged in elections. So, for politicians deadlocked in close races, Asian Americans represent a key demographic group that could alter the outcome of upcoming elections.

A national survey published Tuesday examined attitudes of Asians, who account for about 5 percent of the U.S. population, and the extent to which campaigns are pursuing their votes. It found that many voters are disengaged and a large share remain undecided on how they’ll cast their ballots in the midterm elections.

Two civic engagement groups funding the survey, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote), make the case that this segment of the electorate is continually ignored in the political process. It would be a mistake, they say, for candidates to overlook the Asian-American vote.

“They are the quintessential swing voter, and a lot of them will make up their minds before Election Day,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, who wrote the survey research and analysis.

For the survey, more than 1,300 Asian-American registered voters were contacted between August and September. Continue reading for a few major takeaways from the results.

Asian Americans’ Votes Are up for Grabs

When presented with a generic U.S. House ballot, 27 percent of Asian Americans surveyed reported they were undecided. That’s much higher than the rest of the electorate, with a recent CBS/New York Times poll reporting just 7 percent of voters were undecided. Among nationalities, Chinese (38 percent) and Vietnamese (35 percent) were most likely to have not yet made up their minds.

Asian Americans, while not a large share of the electorate nationally, could swing the outcome of many individual congressional races. Asians and Pacific Islanders make up more than 10 percent of the voting-age population in 45 House districts, according to Census estimates compiled by AAPI. Congressional districts with the highest tally of Asian-American voters are mostly found in California.

Among all decided Asian-American voters, Democrats enjoy an advantage over Republicans by a 42-to-27 percent margin.

They’re Largely Being Ignored

For the most part, campaigns aren’t courting Asian Americans. The survey found that Democratic campaigns contacted only one in three registered Asian voters, while Republicans contacted about a quarter of respondents. Both results represent a decline from a previous survey conducted prior to the 2012 election cycle.

Community organizations, however, which typically lack the resources of political campaigns, are stepping up their involvement.

Still, only 46 percent of Asian-American voters reported election-related contact from any campaign or community organization. Here’s a chart showing differences for various demographic groups:

Rozita Lee, who heads APIAVote’s efforts in Nevada, told reporters that candidates in a few close races there had not reached out to the Asian-American community in a meaningful way. “In general, there’s an ignorance of the importance of the Asian-American vote,” she said.

One way campaigns can better reach voters is to communicate messages through ethnic media, particularly crucial for those with limited English proficiency. Candidates should also consider hiring more Asian Americans on their staff, Lee said.

Voter Education, Engagement Lags Behind

A majority of Asian-American voters appear to be disengaged from the political process. Many perceive politics as too complicated, while the survey suggests others think elected officials don’t care much about their views.

One survey question asked voters if they agreed with the statement, “Sometimes politics and government seem so complicated that a person like me can't really understand what's going on.”

A separate question gauged whether Asians believed politicians cared what they thought. About 64 percent felt politicians did not care, closer to the national average of 61 percent.

Many Aren’t Registered to Vote

Given their low engagement, it’s not surprising that many Asian Americans aren’t registered to vote. Just 56 percent of Asian adults registered to vote in the 2012 election, much lower than the 72 percent for whites and 73 percent for blacks.

Those who register, however, end up voting at much higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups. AAJC reports that 79 percent of registered Asian-American voters cast ballots in 2012. For the November elections, the poll found 77 percent of registered Asian-American voters were likely to cast ballots.

They Favor Democrats on Most Issues

Asian voters tend to lean to the left politically. Fifty-five percent surveyed held favorable views of the Democratic Party compared to 39 percent for Republicans, but considerable variation exists across nationalities. Asian Indians and Japanese mostly identified with Democrats, while Koreans and Vietnamese polled were more conservative.

On major issues, Asian voters mostly agree with Democrats with the exception of national security. Respondents stated Democrats or Republicans were doing a “better job” on the following issues: