How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

California's Asian-American voters heavily backed Obama, Prop 30

Courtesy New America Media

A flier advertising where to vote for South Asian communities.

Asian-American voters turned in record numbers this year, and the majority of them in California cast votes to reelect President Barack Obama, according to a new statewide poll.

Preliminary results from a telephone poll of California's Asian American voters, organized by the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific American Legal Center, have 70 percent voting for Obama and 29 percent voting for Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Sixty-five percent of Asian Americans polled also said they voted for California's Proposition 30, a sales and high-income tax increase measure supporting public education.

A large majority said they supported taxing the wealthy, and more than 80 percent said they considered immigration an important or very important issue.

Polling continues — the full results will be released next year — but the data offer a glimpse of the status of a growing but still-neglected voting bloc that politicians need to begin taking seriously, said Stewart Kwoh,  the legal and advocacy organzation's president and executive director.

"We think that candidates have to pay more attention to our issues," Kwoh said Wednesday at a press conference. He added that while an overwhelming majority of Asian Americans supported Obama, earlier polling during the presidential campaign indicated that a large percentage of Asian American voters were undecided, meaning that their votes were up for grabs.

Many Asian Americans still decline to state their party preference on registration forms, Kwoh said.

Half of those polled said they considered immigration a "very important" issue; 76 percent expressed support for deferred action, an Obama administration program initiated last summer that offers temporary legal status to young undocumented immigrants who arrived before age 16. Yongho Kim of the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles explained why.

"In the Korean community, about one in seven is undocumented," Kim said. "There is a lot of pain and suffering in the community because many families are separated." 

Kim said that about one in 10 Asian Americans lacks legal immigration status, making immigration "a very big issue in the community. And it impacted this election."

Full results of the polling, conducted in partnership with the National Asian American Survey, are to be released early next year. A sample of 1,800 Asian-American voters in California participated in the preliminary survey. Once polling is complete, final results will draw from a statewide sample of 5,000 Asian-American voters, part of a broader sample of 10,000 voters overall.

Kwoh said the results, which will include details by county and ethnicity, will not only shed light on a group of voters to whom national political campaigns tend to pay little attention, but also will help determine what bilingual voter material needs exist among Asian Americans.

Los Angeles County added five new Asian languages — three of them spoken in India — to voter materials and bilingual poll-worker support this year.

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