The potential power of Asian-American voters in the 2020 election

Though a small portion of the electorate, Asian-Americans could play a critical role in the 2020 presidential election. According to the Pew Research Center, Asian-Americans make up 5% of the eligible voting population and are the fastest growing ethnic or racial group of voters. However, Asian-Americans are historically politically apathetic, with low interest in politics, political participation, and turnout. But as the findings below show, Asian-Americans have significant potential political power if they can overcome historical apathy and could significantly impact the outcome of 10 states with a total of 123 electoral votes.

1. Nearly 7 in 10 Asian-Americans don’t vote. According to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), only about 1 in 3 (34%) of Asian-Americans voted in 2018. This is on par with average turnout of Asian-Americans from 2006 to 2016 (33%). By comparison, in the same period of 2006 to 2016, national turnout was 53%.

2. Asian-Americans are not only less likely to vote, but are also less likely to be politically active. Among major racial and ethnic groups, Asian-Americans were least likely to have attended a political meeting, put up a political sign, work for a candidate, attend a political protest, contact a public official, or donate money to a political candidate in the past year. Indeed, despite relatively high wealth, Asian-Americans’ average contribution to candidates was $41, the lowest of all major racial and ethnic groups, and 45% less than the national average of $76.

3. Asian-Americans are also less likely to be interested in politics. While 1 in 2 Americans are interested in politics most of the time regardless if there are elections during the Trump administration, only 1 in 3 Asian-Americans express the same level of interest in politics.

4. Asian-Americans’ lack of interest in politics is also reflected in their online behavior. In 2018, only 1 in 5 (20%) of Asian-Americans posted about politics on social media, 22% forwarded content about politics, and less than 1 in 4 (24%) posted a comment about politics on social media. Across these types of online political engagement, Asian-Americans are less active than the average American.

5. But events this summer may be signaling a resurgence of political engagement among Asian-Americans, at least regarding racial justice. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and start of protests regarding racial injustice, more than 6 in 10 (64%) of Asian-Americans report having had conversations with family or friends about race or racial equality, more than 4 in 10 (41%) report that they posted or shared content on social media about, and more than 1 in 5 (21%) report they contributed money. Moreover, nearly 9 in 10 Asian Americans support the protests (89%) while nearly 3 in 4 (73%) Asian-Americans feel very or somewhat connected to the protests. Asian-Americans are also most likely to report that recent protests, marches, and demonstrations have changed their views on racial justice and equality (74% a little or a lot).

6. This is reflected in high enthusiasm for the 2020 presidential elections. According to the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey, more than 9 in 10 (93%) of Asian Americans plan on voting in November. Moreover, more than 1 in 2 (54%) of Asian Americans are more enthusiastic about voting this year than in previous elections and nearly 7 in 10 (69%) have discussed politics with friends and family despite little or no voter outreach by either party; in the last year, 50% have not been contacted by the Democratic party, 55% have not been contacted by the Republican party, and 58% have not been contacted by community organizations.

7. And Asian-American voters matter and could influence outcomes of many swing states. Based on the margin of victory in 2016, Asian-American voters could influence the outcome of 10 states with a total of 123 electoral votes (Virginia, Hawaii, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvanian, Arizona, and Florida).

10 states where Asian-American voters are greater than the margin of victory in 2016. States colored by winner in 2016

In these ten states, Asian-American voters would only need to average 32% turnout to match the margin of victory for each state; but in each of these states, Asian-American turnout in 2016 was lower than that of the state average. For example, in Michigan, the margin of victory was under 11,000 votes (10,704). In 2016, Asian-American turnout was 24%, less than half of the overall turnout (57%). If Asian-Americans had simply voted at the same turnout rate as the rest of the state, over 51,350 votes would have been cast, or nearly 5 times the margin of victory.

Market research, analytics, PhD in Political Science.

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