Politics

The Growing Power Of The AAPI Vote, By The Numbers

The strength of the AAPI vote was seen last year in critical swing states, including Georgia.
The strength of the AAPI vote was seen last year in critical swing states, including Georgia.
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Census data out recently shows that Asian Americans increased their turnout rate by more than any other racial or ethnic group between the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections.

Their turnout jumped 10 percentage points, while Hispanic and white voters each increased by 6 percentage points, and Black voters ticked up 3 points.

Separated out more specifically, Karthick Ramakrishnan — a professor at the University of California, Riverside and director of AAPI datatold NPR's Juana Summers that turnout among citizens who identify as Asian American jumped 11 percentage points and for Pacific Islander Americans it surged 14 points.

For context, as demographics reporter Ron Brownstein points out, both of those figures are more than the increase among Black voters between 2004 and 2008, when Barack Obama, who became the first Black president, was on the ballot.

Kamala Harris, whose parents were immigrants from Jamaica and India, is the first person of Asian descent to serve as vice president.

Nationally, figures from TargetSmart, a Democratic election data provider, show that the total votes cast by Asian Americans between 2016 and 2020 jumped roughly 47%, more than any other group; overall, the electorate's total votes cast increased by about 12%.

What's more, TargetSmart found that almost half of all AAPI voters who cast a ballot in 2020 did not vote in 2016, and a quarter had never voted in an election before.

The strength of the AAPI vote was also seen in critical swing states.

"In every single battleground state, the AAPI turnout surged (relative to 2016) by more than any other group," Bonier, a veteran Democratic strategist who runs TargetSmart, wrote soon after Election Day.

There were significant jumps in Georgia and Arizona, he notes, and AAPI voters are significant portions of the electorate in Nevada, Arizona and Michigan, as well.

With exit polls showing that President Biden won Asian American voters by an almost 2-to-1 margin, they very well may have been the difference in his victory — despite only being roughly 4% of the electorate overall, according to those exit polls.

Just to highlight how much every vote mattered and how close the election was because of the Electoral College, Bonier noted in a separate emailed analysis earlier this month: "A swing of just 21,459 votes from Biden to Trump would have reversed the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. That equates to one one-hundredth of one percent of the record setting total turnout of more than 158 million votes cast."

In Georgia specifically, TargetSmart data finds AAPI turnout jumped 62,000 votes compared to 2016, and Biden won the state by fewer than 12,000.

"Across all of the presidential battleground states, AAPI turnout increased by 357,969 votes, a breathtaking 48% increase in turnout," Bonier wrote.

AAPI voters are not a monolith. As NPR's Summers noted, "Indian Americans, for example, are more likely to be Democrats than other Asian origin groups, according to the Pew Research Center, while Vietnamese Americans are more likely to identify as Republicans."

A 2018 AAPI Data survey of AAPI voters found that Asian Americans had a 52% favorable rating of the Democratic Party and just a 34% favorable view of the GOP.

But there were big differences in perceptions by country of descent. For instance, Vietnamese and Filipino Americans had a 48% favorable view of the Republican Party, compared to just 14% of Japanese Americans and 20% of Chinese Americans.

AAPI voters as a whole, though, used to be more Republican, and have trended more Democratic in recent years. A few years ago, Pew found that two-thirds of Asian Americans now lean toward the Democratic Party. It was almost equal between the parties after 9/11, and the gap had closed again somewhat around the 2012 election.

But it has since expanded since, and seemed to solidify during the Trump era, as Vox's Li Zhou wrote in 2019: "As the Republican Party has moved to the right, especially on issues like immigration, Asian American voters are increasingly aligning themselves with Democrats. Since 2016, Trump's presidency has only amplified this shift, with the White House's focus on anti-immigrant policy putting voters off even more."

And that was before the coronavirus pandemic and former President Donald Trump's use of racist epithets to describe it, like the "China Virus" and even "Kung Flu." Asian Americans have increasingly been targeted for violent crimes since the pandemic began.

That may have led to activists being able to organize a more engaged Asian American electorate in key states.

"A complex messaging environment," Bonier wrote, "including a President using racist terms regarding the coronavirus, Asian Americans being subjected to racist attacks in their communities, AAPI voters allying themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, and a Vice-Presidential nominee with AAPI heritage likely all contributed to these organizing efforts."

On Thursday, Biden signed into law hate crimes legislation with an emphasis on those directed at Asian Americans.

AAPI voters are only likely going to gain in strength as the country continues to diversify. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the country. They've seen a whopping 81% growth since 2000 and are projected to double in overall population by 2060, going from 6% to 9% of the U.S population.

When it comes to politics, it's all about which states growth is taking place in. And the highest growth rates of Asian Americans were in places like North Dakota, South Dakota and Indiana, as well as in crucial presidential battleground states in the diversifying Sun Belt — North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.

"This second generation is coming of political age and especially during this moment of COVID and the increase in anti-Asian racism and hate incidents, you are seeing a kind of political consciousness that's forming that will likely last a generation," Ramakrishnan told NPR's Summers. "So I think looking ahead, we're going to see a lot more civic engagement, political activism among the younger Asian American population, and especially given the circumstances of the past year."

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