Asian Americans voting power is increasing, but they are absent from national polls

By John C. Yang

There are 23 million Asian Americans living in the U.S., representing 6.5 percent of the American population 4.7% of U.S. eligible voters this year, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the latest polling results in the media.

For two decades, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been the fastest-growing ethnic groups. Yet Asian Americans remain invisible in national polling data: Recent Presidential polls from the Washington Post/ABC, New York Times/Siena, Economist/YouGov, NPR/PBS/Marist, and Quinnipiac all omit any data on Asian American preferences.

In the 2016 Presidential Election, six states were decided by 1.5 percent or less (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Florida). All of these states have seen a growth in the Asian American population, and these numbers easily could have provided the margin of victory. Of course, it’s not just the Presidential elections in which Asian American votes make a difference. One in five Congressional districts have a population that is more than ten percent Asian American and Pacific Islander.

With national polling data lacking, the recently released Asian American Voter Survey shows that the Asian American electorate leans Democrat at 49 percent and is 21 percent Republican. And, 54 percent responded that if the election happened today, they would vote for Biden. Asian Americans are also an electorate that remains persuadable, as 30 percent identify as Independent or other.

If our communities continue to be excluded in polling data, we are left out when members of Congress, the media, and those in power have conversations about issues that matter to us, from racial justice to issues around health and immigration.

Erasure of the Asian American community has dangerous consequences. Asian Americans are missing from data on how the coronavirus impacts us. More than 160,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, yet there is little national data available about the impact on Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. In San Francisco, NBC reported that Asian Americans accounted for more than half of COVID-19 deaths, according to the Asian American Research Center on Health. The Chicago Reporter noted that data examining the racial make-up of COVID-19 deaths is inaccurate because data frequently misidentifies this population. This lack of critical information is a matter of life and death for our communities. It creates huge gaps in our nation’s story about the pandemic, and where and how we send relief and support.

Despite the fact that most of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, they are frequently erased from conversations about immigration. As a result, conversations about the U.S.-Mexico border dominate discussions, and discussions about family-based immigration policies get lost from the narrative. For an immigrant community so large, it is absolutely vital that their voices are visible in polling because these populations must be included in policymaking and national conversations.

For example, politicians may believe it is not worth it for campaigns to use their resources to reach out because of a common narrative that Asian Americans have had a historically low voter turnout rate. But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The failure of campaigns to reach out and the failure of polls to survey Asian American sentiments contributes low voter turnout because the Asian American community does not feel included.

We must also acknowledge that while including Asian American visibility in polling is a first step, polling should continually be improved upon to capture the diversity of our communities. We are not monolithic, and we need detailed data to accurately capture our unique needs and to continue dismantling and discrediting the model minority myth.

America would not be America without Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and the diverse communities who have built and continue to build this country. In a time when there is much at stake, we deserve to be visible and heard, both in polling data and at the polls.

John C. Yang is the president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. For 2020 election resources, see advancingjustice-aajc.org/election2020.

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