Carnegie Survey: Increase in turnout of Asian American voters signals new voting demographic



More Asian Americans are turning out to vote than ever before, but to what extent do they participate in other civic and political activities? A survey of Asian Americans in California conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace provides some answers on the civic and political life of California’s Asian Americans.

The survey was designed by scholars at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and conducted by polling firm YouGov between September 9 and September 26, 2022. The survey takes a look at the social preferences of Asian Americans in California, a state where today Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up nearly 16 percent of the state’s population. It draws on the 2022 online survey of 1,000 California-based Asian Americans conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in partnership with the data and analytics firm YouGov.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace from its main office in Washington, DC, provides analysis on key topics and regions, including East and South Asia, Africa, Europe, Russia and Eurasia, the Middle East, democracy and governance, nuclear, sustainability and geopolitics, global institutions, technology, and sub-national regions, such as California.

The survey has stated that beyond voting, some existing research also suggests that Asian Americans have also begun flexing their muscles as campaign contributors. The survey data suggests that around 15 percent of the respondent sample reported making a political donation in the 2022 election cycle, and most of these donations represented small-dollar contributions. But despite their growing prominence, Asian Americans still experienced low levels of campaign outreach from the major parties, especially the Republican Party. And the data suggested that the reach of diaspora-linked organizations was also relatively shallow among the populations they work to advocate on behalf of.

The data generated by the survey point towards the rise of a pivotal new voting demographic, a development that has been met with considerable attention by the media, politicians, and America’s two major political parties. But these headline numbers, while important, do not shed much light on the broader patterns of civic and political behavior in the Asian American community.

Although the 2024 presidential elections are still far off, 8 percent of respondents reported that they had no intention of voting in the 2024 race. This figure excluded voters who were undecided about the party they planned to support in the next election; about 21 percent of the citizen sub-sample fell into this “undecided” category.

“When it comes to voting, Asian Americans appeared energized but not all segments of the population were equally inclined to exercise their franchise. Two variables—education and income—helped to explain this variation. Respondents with lower household incomes and without a college degree were more likely than their peers to not be registered to vote. And, even among those who were registered, non-college-educated and lower-income respondents were less likely to turn out on Election Day,” an article on the survey written by Nitya Labh and Milan Vaishnav said.

Nitya Labh is a James C. Gaither Junior Fellow in the Carnegie South Asia Program and Milan Vaishnav is a senior fellow, and director of the South Asia Program and the host of the Grand Tamasha podcast at Carnegie where he focuses on India’s political economy, governance, state capacity, distributive politics, and electoral behavior.

“The sample for this survey includes respondents from twenty-one Asian-origin groups but excludes Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. The analysis examines patterns of civic and political engagement among California’s Asian Americans. It focuses on how respondents engage with their communities, how they relate to politics, and how they interact with political campaigns—both as campaign contributors and consumers,” said Labh and Vaishnav.

“One of the most striking statistics to emerge from recent electoral campaign cycles in the United States is the marked increase in the voter turnout of Asian Americans. Following the 2018 midterm elections, the U.S. Current Population Survey estimated that the voting rate among adult citizens belonging to the Asian American community rose from 28 percent in 2014 to 42 percent just four years later. Analyses of this data by AAPI Data found that this turnout surge was broad-based with sizeable growth evident across demographic categories such as age, gender, and place of birth,” said Labh and Vaishnav in their article on the survey.

This impressive growth continued in the presidential election year of 2020. U.S. Census Bureau data found that the turnout of Asian American voters reached nearly 60 percent during the 2020 presidential election, marginally lower than the turnout rate of African Americans but higher than that of Latinos. According to political data firm TargetSmart, Asian American voters increased their turnout at the polls in every 2020 battleground state, more than any other minority group. In fact, the increase in Asian American voter turnout surpassed the narrow vote margin that flipped Georgia and Arizona from Republican to Democrat.

Among unregistered voters, there were few differences by gender, place of birth, or age. However, there were discernible differences based on education and income levels. For instance, just 5 percent of college-educated citizen respondents reported that they were not registered to vote. This share more than triples (to 17 percent) when considering respondents without a college degree. Similarly, 6 percent of respondents whose household income is in the range of $50,000–$100,000 and 4 percent of respondents who earn over $100,000 were not registered to vote. This share stood at 16 percent for those with household incomes below $50,000.

While voter turnout tends to be lower in primary elections than on Election Day, two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) reported voting in the June 7, 2022, California primary election. In terms of the midterm election itself, held on November 8, the survey was only able to ask about vote intention since it was fielded in the September before the election. Of eligible voting-age citizen respondents, between 12 and 13 percent reported that they did not intend to vote in the midterm election either for governor, Senate, or their respective House of Representatives race. Here too, class loomed large in the decision to vote; respondents without a college degree and/or who are from lower-income households tended to be two to three times more likely to abstain from voting on Election Day.

As the size of the Asian American population has grown over time, diaspora groups have invested significant resources in building civic organizations or nonprofit associations that play a variety of roles, including community service, religious expression, and policy and advocacy. Beyond generic measures of civic engagement, the survey asked respondents if they were a member of any Asian American organization or group, be it cultural, ethnic, regional, religious, caste, community, or school related. One in five respondents (21 percent) reported that they were currently involved with such an organization.

The survey has also found that U.S.-born respondents were more likely to take part in diaspora activities; 26 percent of them reported engagement with diaspora organizations compared to 16 percent of foreign-born respondents. There was also a variation in this score across Asian American communities. Thirty percent of respondents of Southeast Asian heritage reported membership in a diaspora organization, compared to 22 percent of South Asians and 16 percent of East Asians.

The survey has concluded, “In recent years, the profile of Asian Americans in state and national politics has steadily risen as their numbers have swelled and a greater share have exercised their right to vote. However, voting is but one form of how ordinary citizens engage in civic and political life. This essay looks at the broader picture of civic and political engagement among Asian Americans in the state of California, where they constitute a significant share of the population.”

Using traditional measures of civic and political engagement, survey respondents’ participation appeared relatively muted across most activities. Performing community service emerged as the most popular mode of civic engagement while discussing politics with family and friends were the most popular manifestation of political participation. Across most measures, U.S.-born respondents tended to be more engaged than their foreign-born counterparts but the gaps were small in nearly all cases.

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