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AAPI voters may decide who wins Harry Reid's senate seat, electoral votes in battleground states

Friday, September 9, 2016

Reid is retiring this year and the Nevada senate race is between Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto and GOP Rep. Joe Heck. Politico reports this race might be decided by Asian-Americans

Both Cortez Masto and Heck are intensely courting Asian-American voters in the battle to replace Harry Reid in Nevada, and for good reason: Asian-American voters, by some estimates, make up as much as 9 percent of the electorate — far more than in other states with close Senate races this year, like Ohio and New Hampshire.

Politico took the opportunity to discuss AAPI voter sentiment at the national level:

Nationally, three-fifths of Asian-American voters have a negative view of Trump, while just 1 in 5 have a positive impression, according to a May survey from APIAVote, a nonpartisan Asian-American civic engagement group. That’s in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s 62-to-26 favorable vs. unfavorable rating.

Making matters worse, Trump had recently listed the Philippines among nearly a dozen countries that the GOP nominee claimed harbored potential terrorists. Utah attorney general and Trump surrogate Sean Reyes later clarified that Trump was referring only to “terrorist elements” in the Philippines and not the entire population itself.

The AAPI vote may be significant in states other than Nevada. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are a very diverse community, and I’m going to take this opportunity to review analyses of AAPI preferences and other geographies where the AAPI vote may have an impact on races.

Voter registration and engagement among AAPI citizens remains low as I’ve discussed in an earlier diary. There are numerous factors at play, including:

Language Barriers: Older AAPI citizens are less likely to be fluent in English and turnout is consistently lower among AAPI citizens with limited English proficiency. Some jurisdictions have worked to improve access for non-English speakers. NY has offered ballots in Chinese, Korean and Bengali for years, as has California. The Justice department, under the VRA, does order bilingual ballots for federal elections in specific counties based on census data.
Voter Outreach: Compared to other groups, fewer AAPI citizens reported being contacted about the 2012 election. Democrats have better outreach among AAPI citizens, but over 70% of AAPI citizens are never contacted by any party. There is clearly an enormous opportunity here.

The Language + Outreach combination: The NAAS survey found that when asked about party affiliation, 32% of those responding in an Asian language said they “did not think in these terms”. Another 23% said they identified as independents. Only 10% of those responding in English reported they “did not think in these terms”, while 28% identified as independents. Those divergent results suggest both major parties have work to do to reach non-English speakers.

APIAVote.org has factsheets on the AAPI voter population in many states, I’m excerpting some of the data below to illustrate the geographic distribution of AAPI voters across states.

Keep in mind that most of the numbers below are for 2012 or 2014. Given high AAPI population growth rates, their numbers will be higher for the 2016 election. In many states, AAPI populations are growing 10-15% faster than the general population every 4 years. In several classic swing state (NC, OH, MI, PA, VA, FL) and others that seem to be in play this year (AZ, NV), the AAPI population could end up being larger than the margin of victory. In a state like TX, where AAPI voters are likely to be over 4% of the electorate, they could make the race surprisingly competitive.

Outreach could definitely be improved, even in a classic battleground state like Florida, 74% of Pacific Islanders and 69% of Asian Americans reported they were not contacted by anyone about the 2012 election. That pattern holds in other battleground state like NC, OH, PA, VA, MI. The National Asian American Survey (NAAS) after the 2012 election found disparities in voter outreach to different Asian American communities as seen in the graph on the right.

AAPI voters in non-battleground states were more less likely to be contacted by parties or community organizations. 48% of AAPI voters in traditional battleground states were contacted by someone about the election, but only 17% of AAPI voters happen to live in battleground states. For the remaining 83% of AAPI voters, outreach levels were well below 30%.

Additional voter outreach could make a difference to the electoral college map this year. In 2012, the AAPI share of total voters was estimated (by NAAS) to be larger than Obama’s margin of victory in both Florida (1.1% vs 0.9%) and Virginia (3.7% vs. 3.0%). The AAPI vote share was also estimated to be half the margin of victory in Ohio, North Carolina and Nevada.

In 2012, 2.67 million AAPI voters cast their ballots for Obama as opposed to roughly 1.17 million who chose Romney. AAPI voters contributed a significant portion of Obama’s popular vote margin of 3.5 million votes.

APIAVote also released a comprehensive survey of AAPI voters earlier this year titled “Inclusion Not Exclusion” (Denise wrote a diary on it in June). This is one of the few surveys to provide information on subgroups within the AAPI population (Chinese, Filipinos, Asian-Indians, Vietnamese, etc). The survey found, Obama’s job approval rating is at 67% among registered Asian American Voters, far higher than his 51% job-approval among the general population. Among 18-34 year old Asian Americans, Obama’s favorability ratings rise to 85%. Hillary Clinton is not far behind with 62% of Asian American voters holding favorable views of her:

Asian Americans are shifting in party identification towards the Democratic Party, and exclusionary rhetoric is a likely cause

There has been a 12-point increase in the proportion of Asian Americans who identify as Democrats from 2012 to 2016 (pp. 27-28)

Bolstering evidence from 2014, our survey indicates that Asian American registered voters, including Independents, will punish candidates with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views (pp. 17-18)

APIAVote also asked voters about their generic view of candidates who indulge anti-immigrant or anti-muslim rhetoric (as a proxy for Trump):

As before, we find that such exclusionary rhetoric would be electorally costly, with about 2 in 5 registered voters indicating they would switch their support (Table 10, prior page). This is particularly so for young Asian Americans, a majority of whom say that they would vote for someone else, pointing to the potential long-term consequences that anti-immigrant rhetoric might have for candidate and party support. Notably, even Republican identifiers (37%) and Independents (37%) indicated that they would switch their support when a preferred candidate uses anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Strong majorities among AAPI voters (70%+) support high-profile policies associated with Democrats including stricter gun control measures, increasing the minimum wage and environmental regulations. 67% supported increasing taxes on the wealthy as a means to lower the federal deficit. 48% identified as “moderate” and 30% as “liberal” or “very liberal”.

One of the authors of the survey also participated in an earlier analysis of AAPI voters for CAP titled “A Multifaceted Portrait of a Growing Population”. This study looked at the geographic distribution of AAPI voters, identifying the top three states of residence for each community (see table on the right) and shows significant geographic concentration in non-battleground states.

More than half of the Asian American population—56 percent—lives in five states: California, Washington, Texas, New Jersey, and Hawaii. Two-thirds of the Pacific Islander population—67 percent— live in five states: Hawaii, California, Washington, Texas, and Utah. [...]

States with high AAPI concentrations are not the states with the fastest-growing AAPI populations. In fact, New York and California have the slowest population growth of Asian Americans, while other states such as Nevada, Arizona, and North Dakota have the fastest-growing Asian American populations.[...]

In the past decade, the number of AAPI voters has nearly doubled, from more than 2 million voters across the country in 2000 to 3.9 million voters in 2012. Still, nationwide, AAPIs only account for about 3 percent of all voters. At the same time, AAPIs tend to be concentrated in certain areas and therefore make up a significant share of the electorate in those places. For example, during the 2012 presidential election, AAPIs made up 50 percent of voters in Hawaii, 10 percent of voters in California, and 5 percent or more of voters in Nevada, Washington, and New Jersey.

None of the five states with the largest AAPI populations would be considered a presidential battleground state. Though if the margin of victory is below 5% in Texas, that would be major news. However, even states not in play for national, state-wide races, can have competitive races lower down the ballot. In many states that have large numbers of AAPI voters, their impact is felt on state and local races.

Los Angeles based Asian Americans Advancing Justice issued a report after the 2012 elections focusing on California, where AAPI voters are over 15% of the electorate.CA-17 is a majority Asian American district:

Asian Americans are the margin of victory in legislative districts throughout the state. During the 2012 General Election, Asian American voter registration exceeded the margin of victory in 38 Congressional, State Senate, and State Assembly races. Asian American voter registration exceeded half the margin of victory in 75 legislative races statewide. These legislative districts were located in counties throughout the state, both within and outside established Asian American communities in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. In-language get-out-the-vote efforts targeting Asian Americans are needed to ensure their voice in these and other key legislative races.

Since 2000, the Asian American population of the US has grown faster than that of any other major ethnic group. The chart below is from the CAP report and sourced from census data. The total population figures double-count persons who reported more than one ethnicity.

The Asian American and Pacific Islander population is exceptionally diverse along every category imaginable, including language, ethnicity, national origin, immigrant status, wealth and education. For example, almost half of all refugees resettled in the US between 2000 and 2010 came from Asia.

In many ways, the AAPI population defies easy categorization. Outreach to AAPI communities can be difficult due to linguistic barriers and exceptional diversity. But as the fastest growing population in the US, AAPI voters cannot be an afterthought for political parties. This is especially true for Democrats, who appear to have a chance to solidify support among AAPI voters, large majorities of whom supported Obama and tend to lean towards more liberal policies.

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