Asian-Americans: A growing political power

Asian-Americans are growing in number and political political clout.

Asian-Americans are growing in number and political political clout.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – While Asian-Americans voted overwhelmingly for President Obama, the vote varied along ethnic and geographical lines.

In an analysis of the 2012 vote released Thursday, Jan. 17, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), said the results reflected the diversity of the community.

A 39-year-old New York-based civil rights non-profit, AALDEF analyzed results of a multilingual exit poll of 9,096 Asian-Americans in 14 states, and released the complete results Thursday.

It was the largest survey in the nation and was conducted with the assistance of more than three dozens Asian-American organizations across the country.

“The results indicated that Asian Americans vary in political beliefs and on policies across ethnic lines and by geographic location,” AALDEF said.

“Asian Americans are a diverse community with varying social, political, and economic backgrounds,” said AALDEF Executive Director Margaret Fung. “The AALDEF Exit Poll provides much needed data on Asian American voting trends, especially as our community’s political influence continues to grow.”

For instance, the survey found that while three-quarters (77 percent) of Asian-Americans polled voted for Barack Obama for President, as many as 96 percent of Bangladeshi-Americans voted for Obama, compared to 44 percent of Vietnamese-Americans. Support for policies including immigration reform also varied by ethnic group.

In addition, while Asian Americans in the Northeast voted for Obama at high levels (89 percent in Pennsylvania and 86 percent in New York), as few as 16 percent of Asian-Americans polled in Louisiana voted for Obama.

AALDEF polled Asian American voters in 37 cities across 14 states on Election Day:  New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Nevada, California, and Washington, D.C.

The largest Asian ethnic groups in the exit poll were Chinese (31 percent), Asian-Indian (13 percent), Bangladeshi (12 percent), Vietnamese (12 percent), Korean (11 percent), Filipino (9 percent), Pakistani (3 percent), Arab (2 percent), Indo-Caribbean (1 percent), and Cambodian (1 percent).

Glenn Magpantay, AALDEF Democracy Program Director, presented the results of the 2012 multilingual exit poll in Washington, DC. Click here for a link to the slideshow presentation.

Among the key findings:

  • There is a range of Asian American political leanings across ethnic lines.

In the Presidential Election, three-quarters (77 percent) of Asian Americans polled voted for Barack Obama for President and 21 percent voted for Mitt Romney. Support for each candidate varied by ethnic group, with a high of 54 percent of Vietnamese Americans voting for Romney, compared to 3 percent of Bangladeshi Americans.

The percentage of Asian Americans who voted for Obama by ethnic group are as follows (from highest to lowest): Bangladeshi American (96 percent); Pakistani American (91 percent); Indian American (84 percent); Chinese American (81 percent); Korean American (78 percent); Filipino American (65 percent); and Vietnamese American (44 percent).

  • There is a range of Asian American political leanings by geographic location.

89 percent of Asian Americans polled in Pennsylvania, and 86 percent of Asian Americans polled at sites in both New York and Michigan, voted for Obama, However, Obama received 57 percent of the Asian American vote at sites polled in Texas and only 16 percent at sites in Louisiana.

  • Asian Americans under 40 were more likely to have favored Obama.

Only 10 percent of Asian Americans under 30 voted for Romney, compared to 16 percent of Asian Americans between 30-39; 26 percent of Asian Americans between 40-49; 26 percent between 50-59 percent; and 27 percent between 60-69.

  • Asian Americans are a growing segment of the electorate, with a large proportion of first-time voters and foreign-born naturalized U.S. citizens.

Nearly four out of five (79 percent) of Asian Americans polled were foreign-born naturalized U.S. citizens. 10% became citizens within the past 2 years; 45 percent became citizens more than 10 years ago. More than a quarter (27 percent) of those polled said that they voted for the first time in the 2012 Presidential Elections.

  • Almost two-thirds of Asian Americans favored comprehensive immigration reform, with a range of support by ethnic group.

Overall among the respondents, 34 percent of Asian Americans “Strongly support” and 31 percent “Support” comprehensive immigration, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Among ethnic groups, there were varied levels of support for immigration reform, with a high of 78 percent of Bangladeshi Americans and Pakistani Americans, and a low of 49 percent of Vietnamese Americans.

  • Language assistance and bilingual ballots are needed to preserve access to the vote.

More than one-third (37 percent) of Asian American voters polled were limited English proficient (LEP), defined as speaking English “less than very well.” One out of five (18 percent) respondents identified English as their native language.

Among the different Asian ethnic groups polled, Korean Americans had the highest concentration of LEP voters, with more than half (67 percent) identifying themselves as LEP, followed by Vietnamese American (59 percent), Chinese American (55 percent), and Bangladeshi American voters (45 percent). Several poll sites where the exit poll was conducted were mandated to provide bilingual ballots and interpreters under the federal Voting Rights Act; other jurisdictions voluntarily provided language assistance.

22 percent preferred voting with the assistance of an interpreter or/and translated voting materials.

  • Voting barriers persisted.

Voters were asked if they encountered any voting problems. Below are the number of complaints:

249 were required to prove their U.S. citizenship.

307 said that their names were missing or had errors in the list of voters at poll sites.

215 had to vote by provisional ballot.

165 voters said that poll workers did not know what to do.

136 voters said that poll workers were rude or hostile.

183 voters said that no interpreters or translations were available when they needed their help.

105 were directed to the wrong poll site or voting machine/table within a site.

  • Among Asian Americans overall, voting in the Congressional Elections mirrored the Presidential Elections.

In 24 of the 28 Congressional districts where the exit poll was conducted, a majority of Asian Americans supported Democratic candidates.  For the U.S. Senate, 74 percent of Asian Americans overall voted for the Democratic candidate and 18 percent voted for the Republican candidate. For the U.S. House of Representatives, 73 percent voted for the Democratic candidate and 17 percent voted for the Republican candidate.

Follow Bert Eljera on Twitter @vegaspinoy60 and on Facebook at

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