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