Asian Americans – one of the key groups in key battlefield states in this cycle – voted mostly for President-elect Joe Biden, according to early polls.
In a CNN poll, 61 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters supported Biden, compared with 34 percent who supported President Donald Trump. In the critical swing state of Nevada, AAPI voters supported Biden with 58 to 40 percent. In a national election poll conducted by Asian American Decisions, Latino Decisions and the African American Research Collaborative in the two weeks leading up to the election, 68 percent of AAPI voters said they supported Biden, while 28 percent supported Trump.
While the data from these surveys is still quite limited, researchers are confident in which direction the results are headed. "From all of the data we've seen, it's safe to say that Asian Americans supported Biden over Trump … and supported Democrats 2: 1," said Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor of political science at the University of California Riverside and founder of AAPI Data, a voter research group.
This trend is in line with the recent election, in which the majority of AAPI voters support Democratic candidates. A fraction of voters, however, continued to support Trump: this year, he appeared to be receiving support from Vietnamese-Americans and Indian-Americans, compared to 2016, according to a poll by AAPI Data.
These numbers speak for the breadth of ideological and ethnic diversity within the Asian-American electorate. The political party orientation of AAPI voters consists of more than 15 different ethnic groups and varies widely. A high proportion of AAPI voters identify as not affiliated. According to the Asian American Choices Survey, Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, Indian Americans, and Chinese Americans overall preferred Biden with higher profit margins than groups such as Vietnamese Americans and Filipino Americans.
Ultimately, if Democrats want to keep up with AAPI voters, campaigns must continue to invest in meaningful outreach with members of the AAPI community and address their top priorities. As the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the country, AAPI voters are increasingly poised to play a pivotal role in elections, including the Georgia Senate runoff in January. If the Democrats can build on the support they have seen, the AAPI voters could be among the groups that are swinging these upcoming Senate races in their favor.
AAPI voters are an extremely diverse group – and foreign policy has been a factor in Trump's support
AAPI voters are far from a monolith, and even though the majority joined the Democrats in the presidential election, Trump still accepted about a third of the group.
While Trump's poor handling of the pandemic – including racial rhetoric used to refer to the coronavirus as "China virus" and "kung flu" – may have been one of the factors holding some voters away, there were others who were Appreciated how tough they were, his anti-Chinese stance seemed to be.
As Terry Nguyen of Vox has reported, Trump's apparent willingness to face China resonated with some Vietnamese-American voters who recall the country's imperialist efforts in Vietnam. For a segment of Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans, that message also struck a chord.
"The issue of anti-communism or anti-China weighs heavily on the minds of the first generation," Linda Vo, professor of Asian-American studies at the University of California at Irvine, told Nguyen. "They see the GOP as socially conservative and anti-communist, which is more in line with their values."
Trump's support for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has made anti-Muslim policies a key element of his government, was an aspect that a fraction of Indian Americans viewed positively. "Some people see Trump as an ally of Modi," Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, told Vox earlier. Conversely, Senator Kamala Harris, who is of Jamaican and Indian descent, excited enthusiasm for the Biden ticket among members of the South Asian American community who identified with her candidacy.
Misinformation campaigns, some of which were spearheaded by far-right groups, also flourished on platforms like WeChat and WhatsApp, shaping voter perception of Biden's political agenda.
Longer term outreach is still required if the Democrats are to win over AAPI voters
According to a 2020 AAPI data poll that showed a quarter of AAPI voters identify as independent, it is evident that Democrats will need to work with members of the community longer term if they want to expand the support they have seen this year . The same poll found that 44 percent of AAPI voters consider themselves Democrats, 23 percent Republicans, and 5 percent consider politics non-party.
AAPI voters have turned more to Democrats over time, given the anti-immigration rhetoric advocated by the Republican Party. "Since 1996, when Governor (Pete) Wilson passed immigration laws, we've seen a shift in Asian American voters from Republicans to Democrats," Christine Chen, chief executive officer of APIAVote, previously told Vox. That year, the governor of California signed a statewide executive order preventing undocumented immigrants from gaining access to publicly funded services like housing benefits, a move he previously advocated through an electoral initiative called Proposition 187.
As more people become naturalized citizens each cycle, these new voters are also an excellent opportunity for both parties who must commit to substantial public relations in order to receive their support. Each election cycle, thousands of voters become citizens and join the electorate for the first time. By building close relationships with these voters early on, the parties could earn their support and loyalty.
"Democrats have a longer history of investing in the AAPI community while Republicans have increased (theirs) in the past 10 years," says Chen. When President-elect Joe Biden takes over the White House – and the Congressional legislature begins a new term in January – Chen realizes they have the opportunity to nurture members of the AAPI community in their staff and involve them in key policy conversations .
"You have to make sure that they involve and involve the AAPI voters in their discussions," she stresses, that campaigns cannot rely solely on voters when there are elections if they don't use their votes differently.
That year, the AAPI 2020 Data Poll, conducted in August and September, found that around half of AAPI voters had not received any contact from any of the political parties. Given the strong turnout this year and the fact that more voters are joining the electorate, it is evident that AAPI voters are an important base that cannot be neglected. The upcoming races in Georgia are another opportunity for such reach.
"The vote of the Asian-American and Pacific islanders is so significant that we need to be included in defining what it means to be American," says Ramakrishnan.
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