NBC: Asian Americans overwhelmingly favored Rep. Andy Kim in N.J. Democratic Senate primary, exit poll shows

Image for NBC: Asian Americans overwhelmingly favored Rep. Andy Kim in N.J. Democratic Senate primary, exit poll shows
Andy Kim, with his sons, August and Austin, and wife, Kammy, in Moorestown, N.J., on June 7, 2022. Credit: Michael Perez/AP file

An exit poll showed that among the Asian Americans who voted in New Jersey's Democratic Senate Primary, more than 77% voted for Kim.
By Kimmy Yam

Asian Americans showed strong support for New Jersey Senate candidate Andy Kim in the state’s primary this week, an exit poll showed.

The survey, conducted during Tuesday’s primaries, revealed that among the Asian Americans who voted in the Democratic Senate Primary, more than 77% voted for Kim — slightly more than he got in the total vote, which he won with 75% overall.

Jerry Vattamala, director of the Democracy Program at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the nonprofits that conducted the poll, said the results show that while the Asian American community in New Jersey is diverse, there’s still “some degree of block voting.”

“We know the Asian American electorate is its fastest growing,” Vattamala said. “It’s still relatively small in a lot of places, but they can make the difference of who wins or loses in close races, especially when they’re voting as a bloc.”

Patricia Campos-Medina was a distant second to Kim, clinching 16% of New Jersey voters in the primary.

The nonprofits AALDEF and AAPI New Jersey polled 150 Asian American voters across Bergen, Hudson and Middlesex Counties, the three counties with the highest Asian American populations in the state. They surveyed voters in English in addition to Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Korean, Tagalog and Urdu, and found that more than 78% of respondents had voted in the Democratic Primary. And over 22.2% of those surveyed said this was the first primary election they had voted in.

Vattamala said that the relatively high share of first-time Asian American primary voters is in part due to several controversies surrounding the Democratic race, including debate over the state’s “county line” ballot design. On such ballots, party-endorsed candidates appear bracketed together in a single column on the primary ballot, while nonendorsed candidates are off to the side.

While Kim himself has been on the line before, he filed a lawsuit in February seeking to end the practice, arguing that it is unconstitutional and gives party-backed candidates an unfair advantage. Though the case is pending, an injunction was granted in March, so that the Democratic primary did not feature that ballot design.

“All these people who get the line have this prominent space on the ballot,” Vattamala, whose organization filed an amicus brief in support of Kim’s lawsuit, said. “They tend to win at an overwhelming rate. It’s such an unfair advantage, and it hasn’t been challenged up until this year.”

Eighty-one percent of those surveyed were naturalized citizens, and a similar percentage said that English was not their native language, according to the exit poll. And almost 44% had limited English proficiency, defined as those who have difficulty communicating effectively in English.

When asked about the three most important factors influencing their vote, Asian Americans cited health care, jobs and the economy, and education.

The nonprofits also looked at several local races that featured Asian American candidates. In one U.S. House race, more than half of Asian American voters in Bergen County chose uncontested Democratic candidate Josh Gottheimer. On the GOP side, 40.5% of Asian Americans surveyed voted for George Song, a Korean American who lost the nomination to Mary Jo Guinchard.

In Hudson County, 80% of Asian Americans voted for Ravinder Bhalla, an Indian American and a Democrat who lost to Rep. Rob Menendez Jr. And in Middlesex County, more than half voted for Democratic House incumbent and winner Frank Pallone Jr., while almost 44% voted for activist John Hsu.

Asian Americans currently make up 11% of the state’s population, making it an increasingly influential group. They’re also diverse, with Indian Americans making up over 40% of all Asian Americans in the state but with significant numbers of Chinese, Filipino and Korean Americans. However, experts say that candidates have failed to engage with the group. Kim, however, has gained significant momentum, successfully energizing the bloc. For him, the campaign is an opportunity to listen to the electorate that has long felt excluded from American politics, he said.

“We don’t only want to be talked to by political figures when there’s a spike in xenophobia,” Kim told NBC News last month, speaking as a member of the Asian American community himself. “Treat us not as a special interest group. Treat the community as a full and dynamic and complex and complicated community that you need to listen to.”


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