NBC News: Asian Americans favored Democratic candidates in midterms, exit polls say

Image for NBC News: Asian Americans favored Democratic candidates in midterms, exit polls say
Democratic Party supporters await New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's arrival at a campaign event in New York's Chinatown on Friday. Credit: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images.

By Kimmy Yam/NBC News

Two separate exit polls showed that Asian Americans leaned left, but Democrats shouldn’t take the demographic for granted, experts say.

May Yeung, 35, a New York City-based publicist, said she was impressed by the crowd at her polling place in Chinatown but not entirely surprised. Yeung, a moderate who voted for Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, said her family had been actively discussing issues like the economy and crime leading up to the midterm elections.

“That’s what’s been blowing up on our family’s WeChat,” Yeung said.

She’s among the many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who showed up at the ballot box Tuesday. Surveys show that Asian Americans favored Democrats during the midterm elections, according to election night exit polls. An NBC News Exit Poll found that 58% had voted for Democrats, while 40% had voted for Republicans.

For the NBC News poll, about 400 Asian American voters were surveyed across the country. The poll didn’t include Asian languages — just English and Spanish. They made up about 2% of all respondents. The results track with those of a separate national exit poll by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or AALDEF.

According to that poll, 64% of Asian Americans voted Democratic in House races, while 32% voted Republican. When looking at the Senate races in eight major states, including the swing states Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania, 66% voted for the Democratic candidate, while 30% voted Republican. A look at 10 governor’s races showed similar results. Jerry Vattamala, the director of the democracy program at the AALDEF, said the voting trend had made an impact.

“When you look at states everyone’s looking at right now — Georgia and Nevada, Arizona — I think Asians were smaller percentages of the electorate,” Vattamala said. “When you have a smaller percentage but they’re all voting, like, 60% to 70% for one party, they can actually make the difference.”

For its exit poll, the AALDEF surveyed 5,351 Asian American voters across New York, California, Texas and 12 other states. Polling was conducted in English and 11 Asian languages, including Chinese, Tagalog, Khmer and Punjabi.

Some states leaned more aggressively to the left. About three-quarters of Asian American voters in Pennsylvania, for example, favored Democratic candidates for governor, the Senate and the House. Support for Republican candidates hovered around one-fifth of Asian American voters. There was particularly high Democratic support in the governor’s race In Nevada, where almost 70% of Asian Americans voted for the Democratic incumbent, Steve Sisolak, while just under 24% voted for GOP candidate Joe Lombardo. Roughly two-thirds of Asian Americans also favored the Democratic candidate in the House and Senate races.

Vattamala said the governor’s race in Texas proved to be an outlier among major races. Almost 52% of Asian Americans chose Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who won re-election. About 46% chose Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke.

Vattamala said that he has seen more support for the GOP in the South and that it’s possible that Asian American voters in Texas further prioritized the economy — an issue that’s often associated with Republican candidates — pushing them a bit toward the right.

Researchers found that the top three issues that influenced Asian American House preferences were the economy and jobs, health care and education. The vast majority, 82.7%, support the requirement of teaching a unit of Asian American and Pacific Islander history in K-12. Asian Americans similarly showed strong support for access to legal abortion, at almost two-thirds. Another fifth of voters opposed it, while just over 15% said they “don’t know.” The AALDEF exit poll also indicated strong support for trans rights, with over 65% saying they support laws to protect trans people from discrimination.

Sadhwani said both surveys have their own limitations. By not polling voters in Asian languages, the NBC News results may capture fewer voters with limited proficiency in English.

Sadhwani also said that without demographic breakdowns in ethnicity, the survey may not successfully show the diverse preferences among Asian American communities. Certain ethnicities, whose preferences may break with those of the larger electorate, could be weighted disproportionately, for example.

“We just know from prior research that we see a divergence of political attitudes and behavior, based on national origin, and not only based on national origin but also based on whether or not someone is foreign-born or born here in the United States and if they have a language preference,” she said. “If the only defining characteristic in his survey is whether or not someone is Asian, it’s not going to pick up on those kinds of nuances.”

Vattamala noted that the AALDEF survey mostly captures voters in all major metro areas, which tend to be more Democratic. While fewer Asian Americans live in rural or suburban places, according to the U.S. census, those voters generally lean more right and may not have been completely reflected in the poll, he said.