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Exclusive: New poll shows Asian American voters could give Democrats a big boost in 2020 battleground districts

A DCCC survey finds that AAPI voters in battleground districts favor the Democratic candidate by 33 points on the generic ballot.

Joe Biden greets a supporter during an “Early Vote Event with Joe Biden and AAPI Victory Fund” in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 18, 2020.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

This fall, Asian American voters could help deliver key battleground districts in states like California and Texas to Democrats.

According to a February survey of 600 Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) likely voters conducted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the polling firm GBAO, these voters favor a Democratic candidate on the generic congressional ballot by 33 points. For the presidential election, AAPI respondents preferred the Democratic candidate to President Trump by 28 points. Those margins are more than enough to exceed the survey’s 4-point margin of error.

The voters who were surveyed came from across the ideological spectrum, as well as a range of age and ethnic groups. The poll was conducted via phone in English as well as in Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Twenty-nine percent of people identified as liberal, 41 percent as moderate, and 27 percent as conservative.

The findings from the survey suggest that AAPI voters — who typically haven’t received much outreach from either political party — could be a huge opportunity for Democrats in the general election.

Joe Biden meets with AAPI supporters in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The conclusions also echo those of surveys conducted by AAPI Data and Pew Research in 2018, which found that AAPI voters have increasingly leaned Democratic. In the 2018 election, 77 percent of AAPI voters supported a Democratic House candidate.

The DCCC, House Democrats’ campaign arm, is working to increase its outreach to AAPI voters in 2020 — and it’s doing so, in part, by offering guidance to campaigns across the country as they try to connect with more diverse electorates. Across a number of battleground districts, the support of AAPI voters could make the difference in the final result.

In districts like California’s 45th, which Rep. Katie Porter flipped in 2018, for example, the population is about 25 percent AAPI. In Georgia’s Seventh in the suburbs of Atlanta, which is currently represented by retiring Republican Rep. Rob Woodall and rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report, the population is roughly 14 percent AAPI.

Rep. Katie Porter visits with eighth-grade students at Jeffrey Trail Middle School in Irvine, California, on April 18, 2019.
Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Of course, the diversity of the AAPI community itself is also important to note. It’s composed of more than 15 ethnic groups, including Filipino Americans, Indian Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Japanese Americans, and Chinese Americans.

And Asian Americans are no monolithic voting bloc. In a 2018 study by APIAVote and AAPI Data, 48 percent of Filipino and Vietnamese Americans said they had a favorable perception of the Republican Party, compared to just 14 percent of Japanese Americans.

AAPI support in a range of districts, however, proved pivotal for Democrats in the 2018 midterms — and could be central in 2020 as well.

“What we saw in the 2018 midterms was that Asian Americans were more likely to live in competitive districts because the battleground districts expanded significantly in 2018,” UC Riverside political science professor Karthick Ramakrishnan told Vox last year.

Health care is by far the top priority for AAPI voters

Of the policy areas AAPI voters prioritize most, health care comes out on top, according to the DCCC survey.

Twenty-eight percent of people listed health care as the issue they’d like their Congress member to focus on the most, followed by 22 percent who were most interested in the economy and jobs. This breakdown is on par with polling of registered voters broadly, which has found that health care is the top issue across people of both parties.

This dynamic was apparent across the many groups that make up the AAPI community and the survey respondents, according to GBAO’s Nisha Jain. “The importance of health care cut across age and ethnicity,” she told Vox.

When it comes to health care policy, Democrats appear to have a major advantage. According to the poll, 56 percent of AAPI voters trust Democrats on the issue of health care, while just 24 percent trust Republicans. Democrats were also seen as more trustworthy on issues including immigration and gun control.

A 2018 AAPI Data survey had similar findings: AAPI voters overwhelmingly said that Democrats were doing a better job across an array of issues including the environment, racism and racial discrimination, and health care. In that poll, 44 percent of AAPI voters supported the expansion of government programs to provide health care coverage, while 24 percent favored smaller government.

There hasn’t been a ton of outreach to AAPI voters in the past. Democrats are trying to change that.

There’s long been a dearth of outreach to AAPI voters from both parties.

According to a 2018 survey conducted by AAPI Data and APIA Vote, 50 percent of AAPI voters had received no outreach or weren’t sure if they had from the Democratic Party, while 60 percent said the same about the Republican Party. There’s no updated data on this front yet, but experts continue to see lags.

As Vox’s Ella Nilsen reported ahead of the 2018 midterms, Asian American voter turnout has historically been low, which leads to a self-fulfilling feedback loop: Campaigns don’t reach out because they expect low returns, and Asian American voters don’t turn out because of limited political outreach.

The 2018 elections, which saw a 14-point jump in Asian American turnout compared to 2014, proved that voters were interested in participating but needed campaigns to focus on them.

This year, the DCCC plans to invest more resources on this front. It’s the first time, for example, that the organization has even hired a full-time AAPI outreach director.

Joe Biden and other campaigns reached out to the AAPI community in Nevada in lead-up to the Democratic presidential caucus.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

“Our goal is to listen to communities first, rather than rely on anecdotes and stereotypes,” said Darwin Pham, who now serves as deputy national press secretary and AAPI media adviser. “We’re seeing across generation and ethnic groups, there’s high enthusiasm among Asian American voters across the board.”

Some of the other examples of the DCCC’s efforts include its on-the-ground staffing. The DCCC has three staffers in Orange County, California, organizing the Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese communities. Pham points to campaigns like that of Rep. Gil Cisneros, which included significant outreach in Chinese and Korean publications, as well as social media platforms like WeChat and KakaoTalk, as an example of an effective approach.

Pham also called out efforts by Porter and Rep. Harley Rouda, who have sought to connect with the AAPI community during the coronavirus outbreak. Porter has distributed information about the coronavirus in her district across a range of languages, while Rouda has specifically worked to ensure small businesses run by Vietnamese Americans in his community are aware of the financial support they could get from the government during this economic downturn.

Rep. Grace Meng, the chair of Aspire PAC, emphasized the need for lawmakers to connect with the AAPI community, in a statement: “Now more than ever, we have to build the broadest and strongest coalition to protect our democracy and that includes the 17 million Asian Americans in this country that have so much at stake.”

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