Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meets with Asian-American and Pacific Islander elected officials on January 7, 2016. Photo: AFP / Frederic J Brown

An overwhelming majority of Asian American voters backed Democratic candidates nationally in November’s US presidential election, according to the findings of a nonpartisan exit poll issued by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) on April 18.

The civil rights group’s multilingual survey of 13,846 voters in 14 US states found that four out of five, or 79%, of Asian Americans voted for the Democratic Party candidate for president, Hillary Clinton. Of those polled, 18% voted for Republican Donald Trump and 2% for another candidate.

The survey was conducted in California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The data was collected by more than 800 attorneys, law students and volunteers.

“Hopefully elected officials will pay attention and see where voter trends are going and will try to serve the needs of the community,” said Jerry Vattamala, the AALDEF Democracy Program Director, in an interview. “This election was arguably more important than previous ones, especially in terms of implications for Asian Americans. They were specifically mentioned and targeted in this election. The issues and choices that the community makes at the polls are also starting to hit home more than they have in the past.”

The lion’s share of respondents (78%) supported stricter gun control laws. Overall, 65% were in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and 65% backed laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. One half (50%) said they do not think that police treat racial and ethnic groups equally.

The largest Asian ethnic groups participating in the poll were Chinese (35%), Asian Indian (13%), Bangladeshi (11%), and Korean (10%). Nearly a third were first-time voters.

“The issues and choices that the Asian American community makes at the polls are starting to hit home more than they have in the past”

Of the Asian Americans who voted for Trump, Protestants and Catholics showed the greatest support. Asian American women supported Hillary Clinton at higher levels in 2016 than they did President Obama in 2012.

In Florida, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, 73% of Asian American voters backed Democratic senatorial candidates, with 21% supporting Republicans. One exception was in Louisiana, where 62% voted for the Republican senatorial candidate Joseph Cao, a Vietnamese American who formerly represented Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District.

In the House, 76% cast their ballots for Democrats, with 16% voting for Republicans. The rest supported other candidates.

Language issue

A third of Asian Americans polled also said they had limited English proficiency. Vattamala noted that the language barrier continues to present legal issues regarding assistance for Asian voters at the ballot box.

In Texas, for example, he noted that elderly Asian voters were banned from having minors proficient in English, such as grandchildren, assist them in voting. “Elderly Asian American voters can’t bring children with them into the voting booth,” Vattamala said.

In other instances, Asian American voters in various US states were required to present naturalization papers, birth certificates or US passports before being allowed to vote, whereas others were not. Vattamala said the AALDEF is challenging such practices by local election boards.

Gerald P. Lepp, an attorney who interviewed Asian American voters for the poll in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, New York, says he was amazed by the diverse demographics of the people he interviewed. “People talk about an Asian stereotype, but this poll shows there’s no such thing,” Lepp said.

Doug Tsuruoka is Editor-at-Large of Asia Times

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