A lot of attention has been paid to the problems President Joe Biden and other Democrats have with core party constituencies, including young and Hispanic voters. And there’s been plenty of polling to back that up.
Far less attention, though, has been paid to potential declines in Democrats’ standing among groups for which polling is more limited. Getting data on these groups usually requires aggregating polls and looking at trends in real-world elections. I’ve noted, for instance, Biden’s declining approval rating with Black adults.
But what about Asian American voters, who made up only 4% of the electorate in 2020? Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic portion of the electorate, which makes them electorally important.
And that’s where we begin our statistical journey today.
A canary in the coal mine in San Francisco?
My interest in examining Asian American voters within the context of the larger electorate came about because of what has arguably been the political earthquake of the year thus far — the June 7 recall of progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin in deep-blue San Francisco.
One big reason Boudin went down to defeat: Asian American voters.
That election result and other data reveal that Asians are still likely to vote Democratic on the whole, but the party has seen a disproportionate decline in support among this group.
Let’s start with the national polling. As I mentioned at the top, it’s hard to get national polling that tracks Asian voters specifically. I would therefore take these trends as preliminary.
Pew Research Center polling, however, does show that Biden’s standing with Asians has dropped precipitously. He’s averaged a 53% approval rating and a 47% disapproval rating (or a +7 net approval rating, without rounding) in 2022 data. Biden won Asian voters by 44 points in 2020, according to Pew data.
In other words, his net approval margin with Asian adults now is 37 points lower than his margin over Republican Donald Trump among Asian voters in 2020.
That’s far greater than the drop he’s had with the electorate overall. Biden’s net approval rating has averaged about -14 points this year in Pew polling. He won the 2020 election by a little less than 5 points, according to Pew data. That puts his net approval rating about 19 points lower than his margin over Trump in 2020.
A peek at the generic congressional ballot shows that these trends are not happening in a vacuum.
Pew’s March poll gave Democrats a 28-point advantage among Asians on the ballot test, which asks voters which party they would support for Congress in their districts. That’s 16 points lower than the margin Biden won them by in 2020. The same generic ballot had Democrats and Republicans tied among all voters, which is only about a 5-point drop for Democrats overall compared with Biden’s 2020 margin. So the dip in Democratic support among Asian voters looks to be about 3 times as large as it is overall.
The Cooperative Election Study, a large academic data set, showed something quite similar in its late 2021 survey.
Biden’s net approval rating was +15 points among Asians who said they had voted in the 2020 election. The same group said they had voted for Biden by +38 points. That’s a 23-point dip.
Biden’s overall net approval rating was -7 points among those who said they had voted in the 2020 election. He beat Trump by about 3.5 points among this group. This makes for about a 10-point drop.
This means Biden was down more than twice as much among Asians than among voters overall.
And like with the Pew data, the generic ballot, according to the Cooperative Election Study, reflects what Biden’s approval rating would suggest: a disproportionate Democratic drop with Asian voters.
Democrats led the 2022 generic ballot by 29 points among Asians who said they had voted in the 2020 election. That’s a 9-point drop from Biden’s 2020 margin.
Among all voters who said they had cast ballots in 2020, Democrats led by 3.4 points. Ergo, the margin was the same for the 2022 congressional ballot test as it was for the 2020 ballot test.
This isn’t just a polling phenomenon. Let’s go back to San Francisco, which ranks in the top 10 US counties with the highest percentages of Asian residents. Specifically, we’ll concentrate on precincts where Asians make up at least 75% of the population.
Support for the recall reached at least 60% in all these precincts and north of 70% in a number of them, as you can see from data collected by Chris Arvin.
There was a clear positive correlation between how many Asians resided in a precinct and how many votes there were to recall Boudin. That was not the case for any other racial or ethnic group.
Those same precincts still gave Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom more than 60% of the vote in this year’s top-two gubernatorial primary. It’s not like they are full-blown Republican or anything like that.
Queens County, New York, which is another top 10 Asian county, is showing similar signs. Check out what happened in the New York City mayoral election last year. Democrat Eric Adams easily defeated Republican Curtis Sliwa. His victory margin of 39 points was the same as Democrat Bill de Blasio’s over Republican Nicole Malliotakis in 2017.
The heavily Asian precincts (or election districts) in Queens, the most Asian borough in New York, tell a different story. Adams won Queens precincts that are at least 75% Asian by 16 points. De Blasio won those same precincts by 34 points, according to data collected by Matthew Thomas.
That is, the Democratic margin dropped by half from 2017 to 2021.
Again, I would view this data as preliminary, though it’s pretty consistent. And while Asian Americans are a small slice of the electorate, the fact that their numbers are growing and Democrats need all the help they can get right now makes this another worrisome data point for them ahead of the 2022 and 2024 elections.