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  • How Asian American Voters Influenced the U.S. 2020 Presidential Election Turnout

    Beyond the winner and loser narrative, one key milestone in the 2020 presidential election was the record-high voter turnout. The election also witnessed the highest number of immigrant voters in history, especially in the Asian American community. According to data by Pew Research, there were 23.2 million immigrant eligible voters, representing 10% of the U.S. electorates. Between 2000 and 2020, the number of eligible immigrant voters nearly doubled from 12 million to 23 million, and this growth is largely influenced by Asian American voters. Six origin groups, namely, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean Indian, and Japanese, make up 85% of all Asian Americans.

    Fastest-Growing Immigrant Voters in the U.S.

    Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. electorate. In the past 20 years, the eligible voter population has ballooned 139% from 4.6 million to 11.1 million. The figure represents nearly 5% of the total U.S. voting population. They also have a high percentage of eligible voters per population in most states. For instance, in Nevada, where their number has been growing the fastest, there were 334,693 AAPI population in 2020, representing a 167% growth in the past 20 years. A survey by Pew Research showed that 66% of Asian Americans in the state were eligible voters. The state has 209,384 eligible AAPI voters, representing an 11% share of its total eligible voter population, according to data by Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote). In Hawaii and California, AAPI voters make up 34% and 17% share of the states’ electorate, respectively.

    Voting Behavior

    However, like other immigrant communities, Asian American voters have flexible voting behavior, which can either swing blue or red in any given election. They don’t vote by party but by issue, and this was demonstrated in the last election. In a pre-election survey, 58% of Asian American respondents identified the coronavirus as one of the most important issues they’d like their candidate to tackle. Most of them also wanted an immigration policy that focuses on a humane system, fair to all, and devoid of separating children from their parents. This indicates their displeasure with the “repugnant” immigration policy that characterized the last administration. When expressing their perception of the two candidates toward the AAPI community, 54% believed Biden truly cared, compared with 24% who said Trump truly cared. All these explain why 63% of Asian American votes went to Biden and 31% to Trump. Their issue-based political ideology means their preferences can flip from Democrats to Republicans and vice versa.

    Back in 1992, a survey showed that 55% of Asian Americans preferred the Republican candidate, compared with 31% who favored the Democrat candidate, and the trend continued until 1996. However, since 2000, the Asian American vote has shifted dramatically from red to blue. Despite that, certain flexibilities can still be observed in their political preferences, as party affiliation varies widely among various ethnic groups within AAPI. For example, a 2018 survey by AAPI Data showed that while Indian Americans are more likely to identify as Democrats, more Vietnamese Americans are more likely to identify as Republicans. And in the 2020 presidential race, while most eligible voters from all other ethnic groups expressed support for Biden, the majority of Vietnamese Americans went for Trump. For instance, among Asian Indian voters, 65% favored Biden, while 28% favored Trump. Biden also enjoyed higher favorability among Japanese Americans (61%), Korean Americans (57%), and Chinese 56%. Contrastingly, 48% of Vietnamese favored Trump compared with 36% who went for Biden.

    Record High Turnout

    The 2020 election saw an unprecedented level of political participation in the community. Until recently, outreach was low, as many political campaigns hardly engaged AAPI voters. For instance, in the 2016 presidential election, roughly 70% of voters weren’t contacted by any of the two political parties. The low outreach resulted in low voter turnout for years. But in the past few years, there has been an improvement, as candidates have started putting in efforts to reach out, having realized the significance of this fastest-growing segment of U.S. electorates. This has caused a trajectory of change, resulting in larger participation and representation in elections and other political matters.

    In the run-up to the election, there was a surge in outreach from both political parties, especially the Democrats. Right from its primary election, the party actively engaged the AAPI community by ensuring every major candidate had an AAPI outreach director who worked with AAPI leaders and organizations on important issues affecting the community. This was followed up by many other methods after the primary, including a virtual bus tour, T.V. ads, tailored op-eds published in ethnic media outlets, and other campaign materials translated into 20 Asian languages. The Republicans also allocated various resources to reaching out to the community. Efforts from both parties were rewarded as the 2020 election had a record AAPI voter turnout.

    An Improved Political Representation

    In addition, there has also been a political awakening in the AAPI community, as it is poised to leverage its growing population in the U.S. political space. Apart from the improved voter turnout, the 2020 election also had a record number of Asian American 158 people running for state legislatures, 21 more than what we had in the 2018 midterms. Also, at the national level, there has been an improvement. Presently, there are 20 AAPI Members in the 116th Congress (3 Delegates, 3 senators, and 14 Representatives), and this is also a record number.

    AAPI Voter Turnout Made the Difference

    Though AAPI voters may be a smaller segment compared to other racial groups, when they strongly turn up for a candidate, they can influence the overall result. Over the years, their influence has grown enough to swing election results even in battleground states. Early results showed that Biden carried AAPI voters by a margin of almost 2 to 1 nationwide. As clearly played out in Georgia, nearly two-third of Asian American and Pacific Islanders’ votes went for Biden – contributing to Democrats winning the state for the first time since 1992. Also, in Nevada, Michigan, and Arizona, some of the states where the Democrats enjoyed the strongest Asian Americans’ support, AAPI votes made the difference. For example, in Nevada, 57% of Asian Americans voted for Biden, while 40% chose Trump.

    The Future of Asian American Voters

    In 2015, there were 20.5 million Asian Americans in the United States, and by 2018, the figure had increased to 22.6 million in 2018.  If the exponential growth trend continues, by 2040, the AAPI population would have increased to 35.7 million, representing 74% growth between 2015 to 2040. This means nearly 1 in 10 Americans will be Asian Americans, which also signifies a continuous surge in the voting population. The number one factor influencing the growth is the United States naturalization route, which accounts for about two-thirds of all Asian American eligible voters. They are the only major ethnic group with higher naturalized citizens than the U.S.-born as eligible voters. However, over the next 20 years, there will be significant shifts in the composition of eligible Asian American voters, according to a study by the UCLA Center for the Study of Inequality. For instance, while foreign-born Asian Americans will continue to account for the majority of eligible voters, U.S.-born voters will be increasing at a faster rate. Also, the median age of foreign-born Asian Americans will be 56 years old, while the median age of U.S.-born Asian Americans will be 36 years old. This projection shows that not only will the Asian American voting population keep growing exponentially, there will also be a generational gap between U.S.-born Asian American and foreign-born Asian American voters. The difference in age, birthplace, and some other factors are strong indications of divergence of interest and voting patterns among various demographics of Asian American voters, which political leaders must take cognizance of.

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