How Asian Americans Are Thinking About The 2020 Election

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Asian American voters didn’t always lean Democratic. In 1992, less than a third of Asian Americans voted Democratic. But nowadays, most Asian Americans identify as Democrats, with more than half saying they plan to back Joe Biden and less than a third saying they’d vote for President Trump, according to the latest Asian American Voter Survey released this week.

Asian American voters are hardly a monolith. The different groups that comprise Asian American voters are divided over how much — and whether — they will back Biden for president.1 For instance, Filipino Americans are more evenly divided among supporting Biden and Trump than Japanese Americans. And Indian Americans, who have been reliably Democratic for years, now show some signs of slowly shifting to the right. Finally, Vietnamese Americans lean pretty consistently Republican.

Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing racial or ethnic segments of eligible voters in the United States. and make up 4.7 percent of all eligible voters, but there hasn’t been that much reliable polling on Asian Americans, so this survey provides one of the few snapshots of how Asian American voters feel about the upcoming presidential election.

That said, it’s important that we don’t read too much into one survey. Only about 250 respondents were in each subgroup, putting the margin of error at +/- 6 percentage points for each group. But by looking at how Asian Americans have politically identified since 2012, we can more clearly see some of the trends in this most recent survey. What immediately jumps out is that while Asian Americans are very Democratic-leaning overall, Republicans have been making some headway — particularly among certain groups of national origin — over the last few elections.

Take Vietnamese Americans, who among Asian Americans are the most likely to identify as Republican. Anabelle Vo, a 30-year-old video editor based in Los Angeles who started a podcast called Mỹ Gốc Việt (“Americans from Vietnam”) along with her childhood friend Bee Ngo, told me this is partly because the Vietnam War still looms large in how many older Vietnamese Americans identify politically. Many Vietnamese Americans fled to the U.S. after the war, and Vo said they may support the Republican Party because they view it as more strongly anti-communist than the Democratic Party. Her friend and podcast co-host, Ngo, also pointed out that many Vietnamese Americans who identify as Catholic may be more socially conservative, a factor that could also explain why Filipino Americans, 65 percent of whom are Catholic, are more likely to support Republicans than other groups of Asian Americans.

But it’s unclear how strong some of these trends are, according to Linda Vo, a professor in the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. For instance, even though many Vietnamese Americans identify as Republicans, there is some evidence that they might be moving away from the party. And much of this comes down to age, which was a possible cleavage among Asian American voters in the Democratic primary. Both Anabelle Vo and Ngo have noticed a distinct generational divide in their own personal experiences, with younger Vietnamese Americans much more likely to identify with the Democratic Party than would their parents or grandparents. This is something that Linda Vo has also noticed in her research. “[T]here is a definite generational divide,” Vo said. “That younger generation tends to be for the Democratic Party and tends to have more progressive politics.” She did say the politics of Vietnamese Americans were changing, but slowly.

On the other hand, Republicans have seen modest gains among Indian Americans, who are the most Democratic-leaning group of Asian Americans. Some of this may have to do with increased mobilization efforts by activist groups like the Republican Hindu Coalition, who capitalized on ideological overlaps between Trump and India’s popular nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016, leading some Indian Americans to vote Republican. Only 21 percent of Indian Americans identify with, or lean towards, the Republican Party, but that’s still roughly double what it was in 2012.

However, the majority of Asian Americans do identify as Democrats. And that could be in part because there is a lot of overlap between the policy preferences of Asian Americans of every stripe and those espoused by the Democratic Party. For instance, according to the survey, 81 percent of Asian Americans support stricter gun laws, 77 percent support stronger legislation to address climate change, 70 percent support affirmative action in higher education, 63 percent believe the government should do more to give Black Americans equal rights with white Americans, 59 percent support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, 59 percent support shifting funding away from law enforcement, and 55 percent support expanding access to health insurance to all immigrants regardless of legal status.

“When you break it down to certain issues like health care and things like that, that’s how it gets easier for me to discuss things with older folks,” Anabelle Vo said. Vo describes herself as more progressive than the typical Democratic voter and has attended demonstrations and marches for like-minded causes. And interestingly, there weren’t significant divides on these issues between more conservative Asian American groups, like Vietnamese Americans, and more liberal Asian American groups, like Indian Americans. For instance, Vietnamese Americans were more likely to favor stricter gun control legislation, policies to curb climate change and affirmative action, than Asian Americans as a whole.

If Republicans are looking to persuade Asian Americans, however, there is one potential issue where they may have the upperhand. Ninety percent of Asian Americans said that jobs and the economy are either “extremely” or “very” important. And on that issue, 35 percent said that Republicans are doing a better job, while only 31 percent said Democrats are. The rest said there was no difference, or that they don’t know.

It is hard to imagine that Asian American voters will greatly shift in their support before the election, so the real question is whether they’ll come out to the polls (or mail in their ballot). The survey did find high levels of enthusiasm for voting (82 percent said they were at least as enthusiastic about voting this year as they were in previous elections, with more than half saying they were more enthusiastic), but outreach from political parties has been very low. Only 30 percent of Asian American voters said they have been contacted by the Democratic Party in the past year, and only 24 percent said they have been contacted by the Republican Party.

And if the race ends up being anything like 2016, where Trump won key states like Michigan with razor-thin margins, turnout among this relatively small — but growing — subset of the electorate could matter.

Other polling bites

  • A Quinnipiac University poll of Maine voters found that Sen. Susan Collins, one of the more moderate Republicans in the upper chamber, is trailing Democratic challenger Sara Gideon by double digits (54 percent to 42 percent) among likely voters. Most of the recent polling in Maine has shown Gideon in the lead as well, although not by as large of a margin. FiveThirtyEight’s new Senate forecast, however, shows a tight race, with Collins having a roughly 50-50 shot at winning reelection. That’s because the forecast also takes into account factors other than polling, such as fundraising, incumbency, a state’s partisan lean and expert ratings. However, the Lite version of the forecast, which is based on polling alone, gives Collins only about a 1 in 4 chance of keeping her seat. Either way, it will be a race to watch closely!
  • Support for the Black Lives Matter movement is down to 55 percent, compared with 67 percent in June, according to a survey conducted in September by the Pew Research Center. And while support for the movement remains high among Black Americans at 87 percent, support among white Americans has dropped from 60 to 45 percent. The drop in support among white Americans came primarily from white Republicans. Support among white Democrats fell from 92 percent to 88 percent, but support among white Republicans dropped by more than half, from 37 percent to 16 percent.
  • According to a YouGov/NBCLX poll, 57 percent of Americans who plan to cast their ballot by mail said they plan to do so a month or more before Election Day, 29 percent two to three weeks before, 5 percent one week or less before and 9 percent on Election Day. Recent polling has shown that about a third of Americans intend to cast their ballot by mail this year, and Democrats appear more likely to do so than Republicans.
  • According to this week’s YouGov/Economist poll, 37 percent of Americans said that we will know who won the presidency this November either on the night of the election or the day after. Thirty-nine percent said that we will know the results either a few days or a week after the election. Ten percent said that we will know a few weeks after the election, 8 percent said a month after the election or later, and 17 percent said they didn’t know.
  • In other news, teens think school sucks … more than usual. Fifty-nine percent of teens said online learning is either “worse” or “much worse” than in-person schooling, according to a SurveyMonkey poll. The silver lining? Twenty-one percent said it is the same, and 19 percent said it is either “better” or “much better.”
  • Bolivians are scheduled to finally head to the polls next month to elect a new president. The elections, originally planned for May, come amid a flurry of protests as the interim President Jeanine Áñez has already postponed the election twice, citing COVID-19-related concerns, and the Council of Foreign Relations reports a deep erosion of trust among Bolivians. A poll by Fundación Jubileo and a host of other Bolivian academic and media institutions found that Luis Arce, a socialist candidate who is loyal to ousted ex-president Evo Morales, is in the lead with 29 percent of the vote, followed by Carlos Mesa, a former president who got 19 percent. A handful of other candidates, including Áñez, each got 10 percent or less. To win outright, a candidate needs either a majority of the vote or more than 40 percent of the vote with at least a 10-point advantage; otherwise, the election proceeds to a second round.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 43.3 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.7 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -9.5 points). At this time last week, 42.7 percent approved and 53.1 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -10.4 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -12.0 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.4 percentage points (48.6 percent to 42.2 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.6 points (48.5 percent to 42.0 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 7.3 points (48.5 percent to 41.2 percent).