New Field Poll in California says Asian Americans support the Affordable Care Act


Ever read a poll and ask, “Did they bother to ask any Asian Americans?” I’ve been asking that for as long as I’ve been in journalism. I remember one so-called “comprehensive” poll taken years ago about sex. Everyone was represented but not Asian Americans. Don’t we have sex?

We need better polling.

Yet, in most cases, polls conveniently exclude us by their methodology. To the average pollster, it takes way too much effort to make sure that in a random sample, we show up in numbers indicating how we feel about a given topic. It allows us to be conveniently ignored, and consequently left out of any serious debate on the most important topics in society.

This systematic exclusion of Asian Americans from polling comes at a price. Polls are the heartbeat of the modern political landscape and help drive public policy. Yet, standard operating procedure for pollsters renders Asian Americans DOA without a pulse.

As minorities become the majority in this country, it seems inexcusable that pollsters can still operate as if it’s an all-white public. We can no longer let wimpy, non-inclusive, non-representative polls perpetuate the notion of Asian American invisibility.

That’s especially true in California, where Asians are more numerous than African Americans.

The answer?

More pollsters should be like The Field Poll, the independent non-partisan polling organization based in San Francisco. In its new poll this week, The Field Poll reveals that a majority of California voters support the Affordable Care Act by 54 percent to 37 percent.

Ninety-nine percent of all polls would stop there. And that’s the problem.

Ask pollsters about Asian Americans in their random samples and there’s more beef in your average chow fun.

There just aren’t enough Asians included in a typical sample to say anything about Asian Americans.

But not in this new poll. With added funding from the California Wellness Foundation, The Field Poll’s Mark DiCamillo was able to go several steps further. Beyond doing translations in language, DiCamillo also oversampled Asian Americans in the California voter rolls. That simple tactic assured that in racial breakdowns, we’d have more than a standard monolithic view of Asian America.

Now we can say with confidence, in the nation’s most Asian state, the majority of voters who support health care reform were indeed bolstered by support from Asian Americans.

We can even drill down to four subcategories.

Korean Americans were in support 63 percent to 23 percent.

Vietnamese Americans were 62 percent to 24 percent.

But there was some divergence when considering Chinese American and Filipino American voters.

Chinese Americans supported health care reform by just 45 percent to 31 percent.

These lower numbers could mean a coming rift in multi-generational Asian American communities, as well as a key difference between native-born Chinese Americans and other Asian immigrant communities.

That lower number in support could also mean that Chinese Americans, with more history in the U.S. and greater incomes from businesses, have doubts about the potential costs of health care. It may indicate that Chinese Americans could be wooed by Republicans on certain economic issues.

But maybe not. We won’t know unless inclusive pollsters continue to see if a trend emerges.

Another interesting number from the Chinese American sample is derived when you combine the 45 and 31 percent. Seventy-six percent responding means 24 percent didn’t respond or were undecided. That could mean people who come from homeland societies, where taking a political stand comes at a price, still aren’t comfortable sharing their views, even in the U.S.

The numbers, however, were even more divergent for the Filipino Americans. They were the least supportive of the health care law, with 39 percent for and 33 percent against. Those combined numbers also gave the Filipinos the largest unresponsive or undecided number at 28 percent. It could be because a large number of Filipinos are in the health care field and didn’t feel comfortable responding.

The Filipinos did have the unique polling problem of having Spanish-surnames (like me), which means it was harder to identify a large enough sample as Asian Americans. Still, I’m surprised the Filipinos were more like the Chinese in their muted support for health care compared to the Korean or Vietnamese.

What do you do with all this data?

You can compare it with the results for other races, of course. The Field Poll put white voters at 46 percent in support, 45 percent opposed.

African Americans were overwhelmingly in support, 88 percent to 5 percent.

Latinos were not quite as strong but still overwhelmingly in support with 67 percent, and just 23 percent opposed.

The Asian American bloc was not quite so united when broken down by our subgroups. But we still don’t have a perfect picture of the community. For example, the poll left out Indian Americans, a large national Asian American subgroup. Ironically, in California, the biggest Asian American donors to the Obama campaign are Indian Americans.

DiCamillo says in an ideal poll, Indian Americans and Japanese Americans would have been included. Two more inclusive polls are planned as the political season moves toward November. He said which groups get chosen is all a matter of budget.

That prompted my question to DiCamillo: Can a pollster get a true picture of Asian America without going bankrupt?

DiCamillo laughed and said he does what he can, such as approach non-profit funders like Wellness and not corporate funders, to create more inclusive polls.

Still, I’m amazed that 99 percent of all the other pollsters aren’t more resourceful and continue to think it’s acceptable to exclude Asian Americans.

Mind you, The Field Poll isn’t perfect. While oversampling helps, it makes the margin of error something like plus or minus 11. Despite that, The Field Poll still gets us a little closer to the truth.

But the real problem with the poll is its limited scope–registered voters. That may be of value to politicos who want to see what actual participants think about the issues. But based on the voting and registration levels of Asian Americans, you still only get at a fraction of the population. For example, according the San Jose Mercury News, a survey released in October by the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice found that while Asian American voters turned out in record numbers in 2008, only 68 percent of voting age are actually citizens.

In addition, only 55 percent of those eligible to vote have registered. And once registered, their turnout rate still lags behind that of white voters.

If polls are snapshots in time, The Field Poll is like a 1 megapixel snapshot in a 16 megapixel world.

Voter rolls may be a good start, but too many Asian Americans aren’t even in the measurable universe.

Not only do we need better polling, but more naturalization, more voter registration, more empowerment efforts in the Asian American community. In general, I’m not surprised by The Field Poll results, as it confirms the anecdotal knowledge that reporters and others in the community have culled from the Asian American public.

So now that pollsters know how to represent us, we know where Asian Americans stand on health care in California. What about the rest of the Asian American enclaves in the country? New York? Texas? Hawaii? On this topic or any topic? Do we really count in the political debate if pollsters, and their old method ologies, aren’t compelled to be inclusive? Until we advocate and demand more inclusive polls–in language and with oversampling–asking “What do Asian Americans think?” remains an empty rhetorical question.You can read more about The Field Poll’s California survey on the health reform law here.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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