By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Today, AAPI communities are highly engaged in voting, according to a recent poll commissioned in part by the AAPI Victory Fund.
Four in five, or a whopping 90%, “are extremely or very motivated to vote,” according to the poll, the results of which were released on Oct. 17.
Not only that, but their turnout at the Nov. 8 elections is set to surpass by a wide margin an already high level of voting during the 2020 elections, despite the fact many factors that precipitated the robust response are now missing.
Moreover, issues that motivate AAPI voters are both surprising and multitudinous, with priorities varying across sub-ethnic groups.
The poll, undertaken by Garin-Hart-Yang Research, was one of the first attempts to tackle differences among the many communities that are broadly considered part of the AAPI camp, according to Brad Jenkins, president and CEO of the AAPI Victory Fund.
It was found, among AAPI voters in general, that while bigoted rhetoric from the Trump White House and anti-Asian hate crimes had motivated voters in the past, today’s voters are mostly concerned with issues of financial security.
“A majority of [AAPI] voters are most motivated by issues that affect the cost of living,” putting their concerns on par with every other group polled, according to the survey.
AAPI voters also shared the popular belief that many of the Biden administration’s initiatives would increase economic wellbeing. These included expanded access to health care, guaranteed social security, paid sick and family leave, and universal child and elderly care.
Still, a key take-away from the polling is the crucial role younger AAPI voters will play, said Jenkins.
Take voter turnout. During the pandemic, more people from AAPI communities voted in part because of the increase in mail-in ballots, the extensions offered, and other mitigating efforts.
Now over half (53%) of AAPI voters plan to vote in person.
But when it comes to younger voters, aged 18-34, the number rises to 60%.
Even on issues traditionally thought to engage mostly older voters, such as drug pricing reform, a tsunami of younger AAPI voters supports such initiatives—such as capping monthly insulin charges or allowing Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies.
Those between 18-34 are 79% in favor of these initiatives, while an older contingent, of those between 50-64, are actually slightly less enthusiastic, with 73% endorsing these policies.
Also reflecting the power of the younger generation, which tends to be more politically active, recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings weigh heavily into the calculus of AAPI voters.
Gun control is now the third most important issue. This is followed by a widespread commitment to candidates that support abortion rights—69% prefer them while only 18% would support a nationwide ban on abortion.
Likewise, most AAPI voters are opposed to any Republican plans to ban books from school libraries.
Roughly three out of four, or 75%, endorsed the statement that they wanted to give their children “an honest and accurate education so that they are prepared to succeed in a diverse society.”
Still, Democratic candidates do not hold sole sway over AAPI voters.
In fact, while the community traditionally supports Democrats, there has been a slight drop in such support and a simultaneous rise in support for Republican candidates, however slight.
In 2020, 56% of AAPI voters supported Democrats. In 2022, that fell to 51%.
As for Republicans, in 2020, 34% of AAAI voters showed support. This year, that has increased to 36%.
In areas of traditional Democrat strength, such as environmental conservation, abortion, and gun control, AAPI voters support Democrats by wide margins.
But in areas such as immigration, the economy, and the cost of living, Republicans are pulling ahead by narrow margins.
Polling sub-ethnic groups
AAPI Victory Fund, a political action committee for the AAPI community, was founded seven years ago by a group that included the late Norman Mineta, the first Asian American to hold a Cabinet position.
The fund’s commissioning of the poll, along with a handful of other advocacy groups, was intended to derive specific data not only about AAPI preferences in general but the many sub-ethnic groups under the overall umbrella.
The poll focused on the battleground states of Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada. But it initially found that only 15% of voter data in these states was divisible into sub-ethnic categories.
Voter outreach varies so much, depending on different communities, that the data was unhelpful.
“It doesn’t tell much if it just says someone is Asian,” said Jenkins. “But it tells a lot if it says someone is Indian American or Filipino American.”
AAPI Victory Fund and its partners hired Catalyst to clarify the data through data modeling, which included making phone calls and checking public records.
Some of the variegated results revealed that although the AAPI community is highly motivated to vote overall, the least motivated were East Asians who completed the survey in their native language—a sign of language barriers.
Also, it was found that across East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian voters, the single most unifying issue was health care and prescription drug prices.
From the outside in
Jenkins, who ended up running Will Ferrell’s production company, before launching his own, said he first joined Obama’s campaign as a volunteer because, “I saw my own story in then-Senator Obama’s story.”
With a Black father and a Korean American mother, as a child, he did not feel accepted in either world.
“I grew up an outsider,” he said.
A year ago, he was asked to become president and CEO of the AAPI Victory Fund.
For a community that was largely left out of the conversation until recently, “polling is one of the biggest things we did this year,” he said.
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.