Press Release

The South Asian American Vote 2004


With analysis about Indo-Caribbean, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indian Voters

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund Releases New Exit Poll Results

New York—In celebration of Asian American Heritage Month, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund released new findings from its national multilingual exit poll of almost 11,000 Asian American voters in the November 2004 Presidential Election, the largest nonpartisan survey of its kind in the nation.

AALDEF’s publication, The Asian American Vote 2004: A Report on the Multilingual Exit Poll in the 2004 Presidential Election, provides a snapshot of the voter preferences of Asian Americans in 20 cities in 8 states: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

AALDEF released a special analysis on the 2,636 South Asian exit poll respondents. Highlights of the findings are:

  • Profile of Respondents.

The five largest South Asian groups surveyed in 2004 were Asian Indian (52%), Bangladeshi (18%), Pakistani (15%), Indo-Caribbean (14%), and other South Asian (1%). 88% were foreign born. 17% had no formal U.S. education. 42% were first-time voters. * South Asian Americans were largely Democratic voters.

Three-quarters (74%) of South Asian Americans were registered Democrats, 16% were not enrolled in any political party, and 9% were registered Republicans. Democratic Party enrollment was highest among Bangladeshi voters (84%), followed by Indo-Caribbean voters (81%), and Indian and Pakistani voters (both 70%).

By an overwhelming margin, Asian Americans favored Senator John Kerry over President George W. Bush, 90% to 9%, with 1% voting for other candidates. One in three (32%) South Asian Republicans crossed party lines to vote for Kerry, only 2% of South Asian Democrats voted for Bush. Kerry was also favored by South Asians not enrolled in any political party, with 86% voting for Kerry and 12% voting for Bush. * Economy/jobs was the most important issue influencing the South Asian American vote for President.

Overall, the most important issues for voters were Economy/Jobs (27%), followed by the War in Iraq (17%), Civil Rights/Immigrants Rights (15%) and Health Care (15%). * The most important civil rights/immigrants rights issue to South Asian Americans was Civil Liberties.

Civil Liberties (28%) was the top choice, followed by Hate Crimes (13%) and Immigration Backlogs (11%). Other issues—such as Affirmative Action, Deportation/Detention, Language Barriers to Services, Legalization of Immigrants, Racial Profiling, Voting/Political Representation, and Workers Rights—were selected by 10% or less of respondents. * South Asian Americans shared common political interests with other Asian ethnic groups.

Regardless of ethnicity, almost all South Asian American ethnic groups voted as a bloc for the same candidate and identified common reasons for their votes. Vast majorities enrolled as Democrats and the second preference was not to enroll in any political party. Civil Liberties was selected as the top choice by most voters as the most important civil rights/immigrants rights issue facing the community. * Many South Asian Americans turned to ethnic media outlets for their main source of news.

More than a third (38%) of all South Asian respondents got their news about politics and community issues from the ethnic press, rather than from mainstream media outlets. When asked about news from ethnic media sources in South Asian languages; 24% of Bangladeshi and 22% of Pakistani voters got their news from ethnic media sources in Bangla and Urdu, respectively. * Language assistance and bilingual ballots are needed to preserve access to the vote.

39% of Bangladeshi and 26% of Pakistani voters expressed that they were limited English proficient. Among all South Asians, 19% were limited English proficient and 20% identified English as their native language. In the 2004 elections, over 20% of all respondents needed some form of language assistance in order to exercise the right to vote, either in the form of interpreters or translated written materials. * South Asian Americans faced many voting barriers.

Hundreds of voters were directed to the wrong poll site and complained of hostile, rude or poorly trained poll workers. Many who did not have to provide identification were required to provide identification.

Community exit polls paint a different picture of the electorate. Different results are found when exit polls are taken in numerous Asian languages and pollsters resemble the populations they are polling. For example, only 11% of respondents in the poll conducted by the National Election Pool (NEP) were first-time voters, whereas over a third (38%) of all Asian Americans surveyed in AALDEF’s 8-state multilingual exit poll were first-time voters. The NEP reported that 54% of Asian Americans voted for Kerry, but AALDEF found that 74% of Asian Americans voted for Kerry. Multilingual exit polls reveal vital information about Asian American voting patterns that are regularly overlooked or very different from mainstream voter surveys.

AALDEF has conducted exit polls of Asian American voters in every major election since 1988. Over 5,000 Asian New Yorkers and 3,000 Asian voters in 4 states (NY, NJ, MA, MI) were surveyed in AALDEF’s 2000 and 2002 exit polls, respectively.

The 2004 multilingual exit poll was conducted in 23 Asian languages and dialects. AALDEF worked with several community groups to mobilize 1,200 attorneys, law students, and volunteers to conduct the multilingual exit poll and to monitor polling places for incidents of voter discrimination.

Co-Sponsors of the Asian American Exit Poll 2004 include the Asian American Bar Association of New York, Asian Pacific American Agenda Coalition, Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, Boston Asian Students Alliance, Chinatown Voter Education Alliance, Chinese Progressive Association, Harry H. Dow Memorial Legal Assistance Fund, Korean American Resource and Cultural Center, Korean American Voters Council of NY/NJ, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights—Boston, National Asian American Student Convention, National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, Providence Youth and Student Movement, Organization of Chinese Americans—Detroit Chapter, South Asian American Voting Youth, South Asian American Leaders for Tomorrow, Vietnamese American Initiative for Development, and Young Korean American Service and Education Center.

Copies of the report can be downloaded by clicking here Download PDF.