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Who Are Asian Americans Supporting In California?

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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 leads with Asian American voters in California

Top Democratic candidates’ support among poll respondents who identified as Asian American, in four polls conducted since Feb. 6

Poll Sanders Warren Bloomberg Biden Buttigieg
Point Blank Political 29% 9% 19% 6% 6%
Change Research 40 17 9 14 0
SurveyUsa 19 9 28 11 16
Capitol Weekly 28 22 11 12 12

Point Blank Political poll was conducted Feb. 23-25, Change Research poll was conducted Feb. 20-23, SurveyUSA poll was conducted Feb. 13-16, and Capitol Weekly poll was conducted Feb. 6-9.

Source: Polls

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 hour, strengthen unions, invest 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.

So the fact that both Sanders and Bloomberg are doing reasonably well in the polls we have could reflect a divide within the California Asian American community, where older voters tend to prefer a more moderate candidate and younger voters tend to prefer a more progressive candidate like Sanders.

Of course, this is just four polls, so we should be cautious about reading too much into them. And some of these candidates’ support can probably be chalked up to the same forces that are influencing Americans of all races this election cycle. For instance, it’s hard to escape the Bloomberg ad machine, which has helped him build support in multiple Super Tuesday states, and Sanders, Warren and Bloomberg are all polling pretty highly in California, according to our polling average. Former Vice President Joe Biden, on the other hand, should maybe be a bit concerned he doesn’t have more support among Asian Americans in California, given that he ranks third in our polling average of the state, ahead of Bloomberg, but is trailing the former New York mayor among Asian American voters.

Other polling bites

  • 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. If Bloomberg wasn’t on the ballot, 53 percent would support Sanders, 17 percent would support Biden and 16 percent would support Buttigieg.
  • A plurality of Democrats think the Democratic candidate with a plurality of delegates should be the nominee. In other words, Democrats are split on what constitutes a win. In a YouGov poll conducted after the Nevada caucuses, 36 percent of Democrats said the candidate with the most delegates should be the nominee while 33 percent said they shouldn’t. A separate Economist/YouGov poll found that in a open convention scenario, 36 percent want the candidate who won the most votes to receive the nomination, 20 percent of likely primary voters want the candidate who won the most delegates, 10 percent want the candidate who won the most states and 16 percent want the candidate who the polls say will do better in the general election.
  • 4 in 10 Americans are worried about personally experiencing coronavirus, while 2 in 10 are not worried at all, per a Economist/YouGov poll released Feb. 26. The remaining 40 percent said they are not too worried. Concern is pretty uniform across party, but diverges by race: While 51 percent of black Americans reported being worried, just 35 percent of white Americans reported the same.
  • Of the 77 percent of likely Democratic primary voters who think Russia is interfering in the 2020 election, 40 percent think that Sanders is being helped, according to the Economist/YouGov poll. Seventy-two percent said the same about Trump, 12 percent for Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and 12 percent said Russia is not helping any specific candidates. In that same poll, 81 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they don’t think Sanders wants Russia’s help, while just 59 percent of all registered voters said the same. In comparison, 81 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they do think Trump wants Russia’s help, while 48 percent of all registered voters said the same.
  • A majority of Americans (55 percent) prefer creamy peanut butter to crunchy peanut butter (31 percent), per a recent YouGov poll. Preference for creamy peanut butter falls to 49 percent in the West and rises to 59 percent in the Northeast.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 43.2 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.3 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -9.1 points). At this time last week, 44.0 percent approved and 51.5 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -7.5 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.8 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.8 percent, for a net approval rating of -10 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.5 percentage points (47.8 percent to 41.3 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.4 points (47.7 percent to 41.3 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 5.8 points (46.9 percent to 41.3 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections, including the latest Democratic primary polls.


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Likhitha Butchireddygari is a politics intern at FiveThirtyEight.

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