For years, Asian Americans were among the least likely of any racial or ethnic group to vote or to join community or advocacy groups. Today they are surging into public life, running for office in record numbers and turning out to vote unlike ever before. They are now the fastest-growing group in the U.S. electorate.

But as a political force, Asian Americans are still taking shape despite embarrassment and racial attacks. With a relatively short history of voting, they differ from demographic groups whose families have built party loyalties and voting tendencies over generations. Most of their families arrived after 1965, when the United States opened its doors more widely to people in Asia. There are vast class divisions, too; the income gap between the rich and the poor is greatest among Asian Americans.

“These are your classic swing voters,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, director of AAPI Data. “These immigrants did not grow up in a Democratic household or Republican household. You have a lot more persuadability.”

Historical data on Asian American voting patterns is spotty. Analyses of exit polls show that a majority voted for George Bush in 1992, Ramakrishnan said. Today, a majority of Asians vote for Democrats, but that masks deep differences by subgroup. Vietnamese Americans, for example, lean more toward Republicans, and Indian Americans lean strongly toward Democrats.

It is too early for final breakdowns of the Asian American vote in 2020, along either party or ethnic lines. But one thing seems clear: Turnout for Asian Americans appears to have been higher than it has ever been. Ramakrishnan analyzed preliminary estimates from the voter data firm Catalist that were based on available returns from 33 states representing two-third of eligible Asian American voters. The estimates found that adult Asian American citizens had the highest recorded increase in voter turnout among any racial or ethnic group.

As relatively new voters, many Asian Americans find themselves uniquely interested in both major parties, drawn to Democrats for their stances on guns and health care and to Republicans for their support for small business and emphasis on self-reliance. But they do not fit into neat categories. The Democratic position on immigration attracts some and repels others. The Republican anti-Communist language is compelling to some. Others are indifferent.

Former President Donald Trump’s repeated reference to the “China virus” repelled many Chinese American voters, and the Democrats’ support for affirmative action policies in schools has drawn strong opposition from some Asian groups. Even the violence and slurs against Asians, which began spiking after the coronavirus began to spread last spring, have pushed people in different directions politically. Some blame Trump and his followers. Others see Republicans as supporters of the police and law and order.

Part of the new energy in Asian American politics comes from second-generation immigrants, who are now in their 30s and 40s and are forming families that are far more racially mixed and civically engaged than those of their parents. A new Asian American identity is being forged from dozens of languages, cultures and histories.


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