Full Analysis of Asian American Vote in 2012; Varied by Ethnic Group and Geographic Location; Vietnamese Americans Are Surprisingly Republicans

Commentary: Asian American and Pacific Islanders are a very diverse and ethnic groups, which should not be clumped together as a monolithic group. They are far from being monolithic as their countries of origins are may be in conflict with each other.

For instance, the hot spots are Pakistan-India-Bangladesh, China-Vietnam-Philippines,  China-Taiwan, and China-South Korea-Japan.


There were a total of 17,320,856 Asian Americans in the 2010 census (18.2 million in 2012), they represented 5.6 (6% in 2012) percent of the total American population.

Asian census density map in 2010.

Asian census density map in 2010.

The largest ethnic groups represented in the census

  • Chinese (3.79 million)
  • Filipino (3.41 million)
  • Indian (3.18 million)
  • Vietnamese (1.73 million)
  • Korean (1.7 million)
  • Japanese (1.3 million).

Other sizable ethnic groups include Pakistani (409,000), Cambodian (276,000), Hmong (260,000), Thai (237,000), Lao (232,000), Taiwanese (230,000), Bangladeshi (147,000), and Burmese (100,000).

Therefore, political issues important to these sub-groups vary greatly depending on the backgrounds. The largest supporters of the Republicans are the Vietnamese, Filipinos and Koreans due to their strong defence stand against communism (except for the Filipinos).

Doris Nhan has summed the “10 Surprising Statistics on the Political Leanings of Asian-American Voters”

Like other minority groups, an overwhelming majority of Asian-American voters supported President Obama in his reelection. National exit polls estimated that 73 percent of Asian-Americans voted blue in November, an 11-percentage-point jump from 2008.

To better understand the complex racial group’s political leanings, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund conducted an in-depth exit poll of 9,096 Asian-American voters from 14 states and the District of Columbia. What they found was that the cohort varied widely based on ethnicity and geographic location.

Geographically, their political leanings were consistent how the states eventually swung. The largest groups of of Asian-American voters who voted for Republican contender Mitt Romney were from Louisiana, Texas and Georgia. All three states went to the former governor. In contrast, an overwhelming majority of Asians cast their vote for Obama in the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania and New York, which went blue in 2012.

We pulled out some other surprising numbers from the poll report, listed below.

  • 79% of respondents were foreign-born, naturalized citizens. The plurality, 45 percent, were naturalized more than 10 years ago.
  • 76% of respondents were formally educated in the U.S., with the plurality (40 percent) achieving a college or university degree. Close to one-quarter of those who were educated in the U.S. have an advanced degree.
  • 57% identified as Democrats. The next largest group, 27 percent, were not registered with a party. Just 14 percent were Republicans.
  • 37% of Vietnamese-Americans were registered Republicans, the largest percentage for any ethnic group. The next largest were Filipinos, 26 percent of whom were Republicans, and Koreans at 14 percent.
  • 84% of Indo-Caribbeans were registered as Democrats, the largest percentage of all ethnic groups, followed by Arabs (80 percent) and Bangladeshi (79 percent).
  • 81% of Asian-Americans in Louisiana voted for Mitt Romney. In contrast, just 2 percent of Asian-Americans in the District of Columbia voted red.
  • 53% of respondents said the economy and jobs were the most important factors when voting for president. That’s followed by health care at 35 percent and education at 27 percent.
  • 65% of respondents showed some or strong support for comprehensive immigration reform. About 21 percent strongly opposed reform or didn’t know.
  • 99% of ethnic Tagalog respondents said they knew English very well or moderately, the largest ethnic group to say so. The largest ethnic groups that did not know English well or at all were Vietnamese and Chinese at 30 percent. The majority of Asian-Americans, 84 percent, said they know English very well or moderately.
  • 82% of first-time voters went for Obama. Just 16 percent of first-time voters supported Romney.

aaldefThe Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) released detailed findings from its nonpartisan multilingual exit poll of 9,096 Asian American voters in the November 2012 Presidential Elections, the largest survey of its kind in the nation.

The results indicated that Asian Americans vary in political beliefs and on policies across ethnic lines and by geographic location.


  • While three-quarters (77%) of Asian Americans polled voted for Barack Obama for President, as many as 96% of Bangladeshi Americans voted for Obama, compared to 44% of Vietnamese Americans. Support for policies including immigration reform also varied by ethnic group.
  • In addition, while Asian Americans in the Northeast voted for Obama at high levels (89% in PA and 86% in NY), as few as 16% of Asian Americans polled in Louisiana voted for Obama.

“Asian Americans are a diverse community with varying social, political, and economic backgrounds,” said AALDEF Executive Director Margaret Fung. “The AALDEF Exit Poll provides much needed data on Asian American voting trends, especially as our community’s political influence continues to grow.”

AALDEF, a 39-year old New York-based national organization, polled Asian American voters in 37 cities across 14 states on Election Day: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Nevada, California, and Washington, D.C.

The largest Asian ethnic groups in the exit poll were Chinese (31%), Asian Indian (13%), Bangladeshi (12%), Vietnamese (12%), Korean (11%), Filipino (9%), Pakistani (3%), Arab (2%), Indo-Caribbean (1%), and Cambodian (1%).

Glenn Magpantay, AALDEF Democracy Program Director, presented the results of the 2012 multilingual exit poll in Washington, DC. Click here for a link to the slideshow presentation. Key findings presented on “The Asian American Vote in the 2012 Presidential Election” include the following:

There is a range of Asian American political leanings across ethnic lines.

In the Presidential Election, three-quarters (77%) of Asian Americans polled voted for Barack Obama for President and 21% voted for Mitt Romney. Support for each candidate varied by ethnic group, with a high of 54% of Vietnamese Americans voting for Romney, compared to 3% of Bangladeshi Americans.

The percentage of Asian Americans who voted for Obama by ethnic group are as follows (from highest to lowest): Bangladeshi American (96%); Pakistani American (91%); Indian American (84%); Chinese American (81%); Korean American (78%); Filipino American (65%); and Vietnamese American (44%).

There is a range of Asian American political leanings by geographic location.
89% of Asian Americans polled in Pennsylvania, and 86% of Asian Americans polled at sites in both New York and Michigan, voted for Obama, However, Obama received 57% of the Asian American vote at sites polled in Texas and only 16% at sites in Louisiana.

Asian Americans under 40 were more likely to have favored Obama.
Only 10% of Asian Americans under 30 voted for Romney, compared to 16% of Asian Americans between 30-39; 26% of Asian Americans between 40-49; 26% between 50-59%; and 27% between 60-69.

Asian Americans are a growing segment of the electorate, with a large proportion of first-time voters and foreign-born naturalized U.S. citizens.

Nearly four out of five (79%) of Asian Americans polled were foreign-born naturalized U.S. citizens. 10% became citizens within the past 2 years; 45% became citizens more than 10 years ago. More than a quarter (27%) of those polled said that they voted for the first time in the 2012 Presidential Elections.

Almost two-thirds of Asian Americans favored comprehensive immigration reform, with a range of support by ethnic group.

Overall among the respondents, 34% of Asian Americans “Strongly support” and 31% “Support” comprehensive immigration, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Among ethnic groups, there were varied levels of support for immigration reform, with a high of 78% of Bangladeshi Americans and Pakistani Americans, and a low of 49% of Vietnamese Americans.

Language assistance and bilingual ballots are needed to preserve access to the vote.
More than one-third (37%) of Asian American voters polled were limited English proficient (LEP), defined as speaking English “less than very well.” One out of five (18%) respondents identified English as their native language.

Among the different Asian ethnic groups polled, Korean Americans had the highest concentration of LEP voters, with more than half (67%) identifying themselves as LEP, followed by Vietnamese American (59%), Chinese American (55%), and Bangladeshi American voters (45%). Several poll sites where the exit poll was conducted were mandated to provide bilingual ballots and interpreters under the federal Voting Rights Act; other jurisdictions voluntarily provided language assistance.  22% preferred voting with the assistance of an interpreter or/and translated voting materials.

Voting barriers persisted.
Voters were asked if they encountered any voting problems. Below are the number of complaints:
249 were required to prove their U.S. citizenship.
307 said that their names were missing or had errors in the list of voters at poll sites.
215 had to vote by provisional ballot.
165 voters said that poll workers did not know what to do.
136 voters said that poll workers were rude or hostile.
183 voters said that no interpreters or translations were available when they needed their help.
105 were directed to the wrong poll site or voting machine/table within a site.

Among Asian Americans overall, voting in the Congressional Elections mirrored the Presidential Elections.

In 24 of the 28 Congressional districts where the exit poll was conducted, a majority of Asian Americans supported Democratic candidates.

  • For the U.S. Senate, 74% of Asian Americans overall voted for the Democratic candidate and 18% voted for the Republican candidate.
  • For the U.S. House of Representatives, 73% voted for the Democratic candidate and 17% voted for the Republican candidate.


Click here for a link to the presentation (with further data)



The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), founded in 1974, is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all.

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