Posted on March 2, 2020

Who Are Asian Americans Supporting in California?

Likhitha Butchireddygari, FiveThirtyEight, February 28, 2020

Understanding the political preferences of Asian Americans is tricky. They make up a little less than 7 percent of the total U.S. population, which means pollsters often don’t sample enough of them to draw robust conclusions. And the demographic category lumps together people from a huge range of backgrounds, with roots in a large and diverse group of countries, which means political opinions can vary dramatically within the group.

But one thing we do know is that this group has increasingly leaned toward the Democratic Party over the past two decades. In 2017, 65 percent of Asian Americans were Democrats or leaned Democratic, up from 53 percent in 1994, according to annual totals of Pew Research Center study data.

And in California, which votes on Super Tuesday, Asian Americans make up 16 percent of the population, the largest percentage of any state except Hawaii. The state’s Asian American voters account for 12 percent of likely voters who are registered Democrats, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, which released a study of California voters last August. And that same research showed that 36 percent of Asian American likely voters in California are independents, compared to 43 percent who are Democrats, which means that if independents choose to cast a Democratic ballot, Asian Americans’ share of the primary electorate could be even higher.

Heading into Super Tuesday, we have four recent California polls with crosstab information on who Asian American are leaning toward voting for, and Sen. Bernie Sanders seems to have an edge, earning the most support in three of the four surveys we looked at. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also did well across the board.


Sanders’s focus on “working class” issues might be helping him with this group, because almost a quarter of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in California say they are struggling with poverty, according to a PRRI report published last November. The survey found that most AAPIs reported coming from a middle, working or lower-class family and described their economic situations as largely unchanged from the one in which they grew up. Sanders’s proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hourstrengthen unionsinvest in affordable housing and provide health care for all could appeal to economically insecure Asian Americans.

But, of course, not all Asian voters are struggling economically. The median household income for Asian Americans in California is about $97,000, according to 2018 data from the Census Bureau, higher than the roughly $75,000 median for Californians of all races. This could help explain some of the support we see for Bloomberg, as he tends to do better with older, wealthier and more moderate Democratic voters whereas Sanders tends to do worse with voters whose household income is over $100,000.

In addition, some older Asian Americans may be less willing to back Sanders because they may be wary of politicians who label themselves socialists. Varun Nikore, president of the AAPI Victory Fund, a super PAC that aims to mobilize Asian American voters in support of Democratic candidates, told me that many older Asian Americans came to the U.S. after fleeing socialist or communist regimes in Vietnam, Korea or China and are therefore more apprehensive of socialism than younger, U.S.-born generations are.


In a Public Policy Polling survey of likely Texas Democratic primary voters released this week, 32 percent of Asian Americans supported Sanders, 29 percent supported Bloomberg, 20 percent supported former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and 9 percent supported Biden. {snip}