Emil Guillermo: The latest AALDEF exit poll on Biden and abortion rights

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Some of my heroes are Poles, like the late great Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko, but polls, I don’t care for much.

I’ll write about them, sure, but usually they say nothing about Asian Americans and what we think. There’s barely enough to mention what Blacks or Hispanics think. At best, with a general margin of error of 3-5 percent in a poll, you get a homogenized sense of a feeling. It’s not concrete, but it is data in the moment. A “snapshot in time,” with all the utility of Kleenex, ultimately, discardable. It’s not material you knit a garment like a presidency from.

But there is one poll I love to talk about—the AALDEF Asian American Exit Poll—which specifically targets a large group of Asian Americans, registered and engaged, right after they’ve voted, and it’s all done in-language.

Mainstream pollsters don’t speak our language and would normally let Asians walk by and ignore their input. The AALDEF poll talks to people in 11 Asian languages: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Khmer, Korean, Punjabi, Tagalog, Urdu and Vietnamese.

East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, our group diversity is pretty much covered in AALDEF exit polling. Last Tuesday, over 140 AALDEF volunteers went out on election day in seven key states—Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia—and found Asian Americans still strongly supported Democratic candidates a vast majority of the time.

And when it came to key issues, Asian Americans were 64.5 percent in support of access to legal abortion and 64.5 percent in support of protecting transgender people from discrimination.

That’s the good news.

But in keeping with mainstream polls showing flagging support among Blacks and Latinos, the AALDEF exit poll shows Asian Americans were also less enthusiastic about Joe Biden.

In all states polled, the Biden approval rating was at just 35.4 percent, about half of what I would have expected. Noteworthy is that 42.1 percent disapproved of Biden.22.5 percent said “Don’t Know.” At least for now.

I was surprised because Biden is probably the most proactive president for Asian Americans we’ve had. He picked African American/South Asian Kamala Harris as his running mate. After being elected, Biden did not hesitate to come to our defense with proclamations and actions to denounce the trend of AAPI hate in America.

So a 41.2 percent disapproval rating is a bit of a surprise. But no reason to panic for you Biden fans. Polls sound an alarm. You see a weak spot, you shore it up. Biden has one year. He won’t get younger. But perhaps he can do more to change your lives positively than his likely Republican counterpart, the twice impeached, four-time criminally indicted on 91 felony counts candidate. That guy.

Ask people in November 2024 and the numbers no doubt will change. And it will count.

But it is a concern now as we see how Biden adjusts and begins to make sure that Blacks, Latinos, and Asians matter to his winning coalition.

In my reading of the AALDEF poll, the top issues for Asian Americans were education, health care, and public safety. The economy did not come up as strongly as one would expect based on mainstream coverage and polling.


One positive sign from this past week is the issue of abortion, when voters in Ohio chose to protect abortion rights by writing it into the state constitution. And it passed because suburban voters in conservative districts flipped and voted for abortion.

For the “pro-life”/pro-baby party, it changes a bread-and-butter issue. The SCOTUS ending of Roe v. Wade at the federal level pushed the fight to the states. And Republicans are finding at the grassroots level that it’s a losing issue, and they are dumbfounded.

Republicans want to have the right to an abortion. Just like Ohio showed this week, Republicans want their legal marijuana. They want their freedom from the GOP.

What to do?

Of course, I’ve found in U.S. history when the going gets tough, the tough go racist.

How can you have your cake and eat it too on abortion?

The Republicans can simply say, OK, you can all have your abortions; we don’t want to pay for your kids’ education and health care and safety anyway. And with low U.S. birth rates, the better to keep BIPOC populations down.

At some point, the GOP will bring up race with abortion, in much the same way as racism is a factor on immigration. It’s just the natural way to go for a political party bent on standing up for its white supremacy roots. The Ohio vote shows the GOP has already lost its way on the issue. They don’t want other red MAGA states to flip blue. Instead of saying, "We were wrong to take away the right to abortion," I think the odds are good for the pro-baby GOP to go completely MAGA racist on abortion. It's a face saving gesture. And it's consistent with its racist immigration and southern border policies.

As for Asian Americans, according to the multi-state AALDEF exit poll, we are at 64.5 percent in support of legal access to abortion rights, which aligns with Democrats and Biden.

I would say that’s also troubling for Republicans who are looking to us to join the trend of breaking the Democratic hold on BIPOC communities.

So with the presidential election a year away, the polls are worth watching to see trends like that and to see reactions from the major parties.

It’s also a reminder why the AALDEF polls are important because Asian Americans really show up.

Just remember the best polls are always the ones taken closest to the ultimate poll, the ballot box. That’s the one that matters.

One more point: I last wrote about the New York Times poll finding that Joe Biden or Kamala Harris would lose to Donald Trump if the election were held today. But a generic Democrat could win. So who is a good generic Democrat?

If that’s defined as someone who can turn red into blue, the political alchemist seems to be Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. He bested the Mitch McConnell approved, Trump-endorsed African American state attorney general of Kentucky, Daniel Cameron.

In a red state, Beshear overcame all that to win a second term. Maybe not in 2024, but when people talk about the next generation of Democrats, Asian Americans might not automatically look to California’s Governor Gavin Newsom.This week, Kentucky’s Beshear made people notice.

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NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on