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data breakdown

Exit polls were wrong about how many Asian Americans supported Trump

Getty/David McNew

A striking majority of Asian-American voters backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, according to a national poll.

The Asian-American National Election Eve Poll concluded that 75% of Asian Americans voted for Clinton, while only 19% voted for Donald Trump—a much wider margin than found by exit polls, which reported 65% of Asian Americans voting for Clinton.

“Once again, the national media exit-poll numbers for Latinos and Asian Americans didn’t do it right and didn’t get it right,” Taeku Lee, UC Berkeley political science professor and the survey’s lead researcher, said in a release.

“National media exit-poll numbers for…Asian Americans didn’t do it right and didn’t get it right.”

- Taeku Lee, UC Berkeley professor

The poll provides the most in-depth look at Asian Americans’ election preferences and motivations. Conducted over phone and online surveys in English and six Asian languages during the week preceding Election Day, it surveyed 2,400 respondents from six Asian ethnic groups: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese American voters. It’s also the only national poll of voters’ final election choices to offer surveys in Asian languages.

“One of the challenges in polling Asian Americans has been getting large enough sample sizes to look at ethnic-specific trends,” Dan Ichinose, a demographic researcher with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA), one of five organizations that co-sponsored the poll, told me.

“We surveyed enough of these particular ethnic groups to ensure we could say something substantive about how they voted.”

Growing tide

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are increasingly poised to shape U.S. elections. For two decades, they’ve been the nation’s fastest-growing racial group and one of its fastest-growing electorates. Since 2000, the AAPI electorate has grown by 620,000 voters with each presidential cycle. By 2040, one in every 10 Americans will be AAPI, and the number of AAPI voters will double to 12 million.

With so many elections determined by unnervingly small margins, Asian Americans have the power to influence outcomes, Ichinose said.

Right now, AAPIs make up more than 10% of the electorate in seven states, and more than 5% of the electorate in 102 congressional districts. During the 2012 presidential election, the number of registered Asian-American voters exceeded the number of votes needed to win legislative races in 38 districts in California.

What’s more, although states like California, Hawaii, and New York still boast the largest AAPI populations, some of the fastest growth in this group has taken place in states with historically smaller populations of Asian Americans. These include Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia.

Shift to the left

Among its findings, the election eve poll found a left-ward shift in Asian-American party affiliations, with 56% of Asian Americans now identifying as Democrats, compared to 49% four years ago.

The percentage of Asian Americans who voted Democrat in this election also reached a new high, growing steadily from 31% in 1992 to 76% this year, according to the poll. Since 2000, most Asian-American voters have voted Democrat in presidential elections.

In key swing states, Asian Americans boosted votes for Clinton, with 83% supporting her in Pennsylvania, 78% in Virginia, 73% in North Carolina, and 72% in Florida.

Even among Asian-American conservatives, “they tend to support Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, more than Republicans in general,” Karin Wang, vice president of programs and communications at AAAJ-LA, told me.

“I think we are seeing Asian Americans generally lining up—especially as time passes—with other communities of color, in ways that counter the narrative that Asian Americans are still mostly conservative.”

Breaking down the electorate

The most important issues to Asian-American voters this election were the economy and jobs, race relations, and healthcare, according to the election eve poll.

As a whole, Asian Americans held liberal stances on many big issues; most supported protection for undocumented immigrants, the Affordable Care Act, stricter gun laws, and LGBTQ rights.

Among Asian-American voters, women supported Clinton more than men, while Indian Americans supported her more than other Asian ethnic groups.

Chief among concerns for Asian-American women are immigrant reform, reproductive justice, and economic measures to fight poverty, such as raising minimum wage and providing paid sick leave, said Miriam Yeung, executive director of advocacy group National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

Indian Americans supported [Clinton] more than other Asian ethnic groups.

“There are well over 1 million Asian-American women living in poverty in the Midwest,” she said, “and over a third of Asian-American workers make less than $13 an hour.”

Meanwhile, millennials and native-born Asian Americans tend to lead the charge on many progressive issues—such as supporting measures to address climate change, equal rights for black people, and increased federal assistance for college—according to national research group AAPI Data.

For South Asian American voters, education policy and immigration reform are particularly important issues, according to Suman Raghunathan, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, a nonpartisan South Asian American advocacy nonprofit. “Indian Americans alone are one of the most rapidly growing undocumented populations nationwide,” she said.

Some more respect…

Politicians showed signs of recognizing the growing influence of Asian-American voters this cycle, according to Alton Wang, an associate at civic-engagement organization APIAVote.

Clinton’s campaign aired TV and radio ads in Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, and Cantonese, targeting Asian-American voters in California. She also published an op-ed that specifically pledged to stand with AAPIs—an unprecedented move for a major-party presidential nominee.

What’s more, at a Presidential Election Forum hosted by APIAVote and the Asian American Journalists Association in August, the Clinton and Trump campaigns both sent representatives to address AAPI concerns.

“It was the first time we saw such high-level surrogates come to an AAPI town hall,” Alton Wang said (Bill Clinton represented Hillary, while Sean Reyes, Utah’s attorney general, represented Trump. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson also attended the forum).

“As AAPIs become more of a force—not just in politics—but in culture, society, business, and the economy broadly, candidates will be forced to engage our communities.”

…But major barriers remain

In larger strokes, however, the AAPI community remains underappreciated. Despite how quickly it’s growing, “seldom have our members been taken seriously in the political process,” said AAAJ-LA’s Ichinose.

The Asian American National Election Eve poll found that 57% of Asian Americans were not asked by any campaign, political party, or civic organizations to vote or register to vote. Of those contacted, 84% were asked in English.

Two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign-born, and many are first-time voters with limited English ability. They’re often asked for more identification, are segregated from other voters, or aren’t given proper language assistance. Asian Americans may also face voter intimidation, particularly those perceived as Muslim.

“Seldom have our members been taken seriously in the political process.”

- Dan Ichinose, demographic researcher with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles

Meanwhile, with the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to gut key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, America saw a resurgence of strict voter-ID laws. Such laws could post significant barriers for AAPI voters, according to APIAVote’s Alton Wang. A recent report from UC San Diego found that strict ID laws could depress Asian American turnout by 12.5 points, Latinx turnout by 9.3 points, and black turnout by 8.6 points.

With the Supreme Court ruling, many states “also saw strong cutbacks in early voting and absentee voting—options that have really helped our communities,” said Wang.

Power from within

To address the many challenges confronting the AAPI community, local organizations have tried to find their own solutions. One example is VoterVox, an app that connects volunteer translators with AAPIs who need help voting in their own language.

“VoterVox came from the direct experiences of a lot of immigrant families who are directly in our network,” Cayden Mak, executive director of VoterVox developer 18 Million Rising, told me. “The user interface of voting in this country is really unacceptable in many ways, and it’s especially so when you don’t speak English.”

This election has generally seen a big increase in efforts to rally AAPI voters, said Alton Wang of APIAVote, which this year partnered with Rock the Vote to run a #PowerUp hashtag campaign specifically targeting AAPI millennials.

More than 700 AAPI-serving organizations participated in National Voter Registration Day this year, according to AAPI Data, compared to 150 organizations that participated in 2012.

“The user interface of voting in this country is really unacceptable in many ways, and it’s especially so when you don’t speak English.”

- Cayden Mak, executive director of 18 Million Rising

“We’ve seen an unprecedented amount of coordination from organizations and community members to engage our bases, and make sure our communities are not only heard, but also educated and aware of their rights when they go to the polls,” Alton Wang said, adding that his immigrant father registered to vote for the first time this year, after 20 years of being an American citizen.

Mak, of 18 Million Rising, sees AAPI engagement as an important part of mobilizing a large base of disenfranchised voters.

“I see opportunities to deepen our organizing, to start forming coalitions with unlikely allies, and to just build the power of people who historically have not gotten their fair share,” Mak said. “That’s how we’re going to find real power.”