The Asian Vote in 2020
Good for the Democrats, But Contain Your Enthusiasm
The Asian vote in 2020 was a bright spot for Democrats in 2020 in that, unlike other components of the nonwhite vote, Democrats’ margins compared to 2016 suffered only a tiny decline (less than a point) compared to a 7 point decline among black voters and a 16 point decline among Hispanic voters (Catalist two party vote data). In addition, Asian turnout went up more than other racial groups including whites according to both the Census Bureau and Catalist.
Add in the fact that Asians are the fastest-growing racial group in the country and you clearly have a development that’s helpful for the Democrats. But how helpful? Ron Brownstein on the Atlantic site advised:
Don’t sleep on Asian American voters. The bloc’s power is growing fast. That could be bad news for the GOP…. An intractable deficit among the nation’s fastest-growing racial group could be part of the price Republicans pay for allowing Trump to redefine their party in his image.
It’s important to put this trend in perspective. First, Asian voters are growing fast in raw numbers but it is from a very small base. Even with fast growth in the underlying population and stellar relative turnout performance in 2020, the Asian share of the vote was only a little over 4 percent, up modestly up from 2016, when it was just under 4 percent (Catalist). In 2008 and 2012, it was right around 3 percent. So the growth in actual vote share is slow.
And the share of Asian eligible voters in most swing states is still quite modest. After Nevada, where it is 8 percent, there is a sharp dropoff to Texas at 4 percent after which the share of Asians among eligible voters is at most 3 percent and usually lower in every state.
Of course, in a close election even small groups can make important contributions. This has tempted some advocates for the Asian vote to make Asians suddenly the central driver of Democratic fortunes. In the Brownstein piece, he quotes AAPI Victory Alliance Executive Director Varun Nikore asserting “In Georgia, they delivered this election for Joe Biden. And then they delivered Joe Biden the Senate.”
Well, if you squint and light’s dim. And you ignore the fact that black and white college-educated voters contributed far more to making up Clinton’s 2016 deficit in the state plus cancelling out the additional votes Trump netted from white noncollege voters in 2020. This is a common advocacy group trope—comparing the contribution of “their” target group to a small final victory margin and asserting that their group was therefore the one that delivered the victory. Not quite.
So caution is advised in assessing the potential future role of the Asian vote. Even assuming Democrats can keep their vote share constant (an assumption that has failed them for Hispanics) the boost in their fortunes from future growth in the Asian population is likely to be modest. Other, far larger, parts of the voting population will continue to be decisive.