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Civic and Political Life of California’s Asian Americans

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One of the most striking statistics to emerge from recent electoral campaign cycles in the United States is the marked increase in the voter turnout of Asian Americans. Following the 2018 midterm elections, the U.S. Current Population Survey estimated that the voting rate among adult citizens belonging to the Asian American community rose from 28 percent in 2014 to 42 percent just four years later. Analyses of this data by AAPI Data found that this turnout surge was broad-based with sizeable growth evident across demographic categories such as age, gender, and place of birth. 

This impressive growth continued in the presidential election year of 2020. U.S. Census Bureau data found that the turnout of Asian American voters reached nearly 60 percent during the 2020 presidential election, marginally lower than the turnout rate of African Americans but higher than that of Latinos. According to political data firm TargetSmart, Asian American voters increased their turnout at the polls in every 2020 battleground state, more than any other minority group. In fact, the increase in Asian American voter turnout surpassed the narrow vote margin that flipped Georgia and Arizona from Republican to Democrat.

These striking figures herald the rise of a pivotal new voting demographic, a development that has been met with considerable attention by the media, politicians, and America’s two major political parties. But these headline numbers, while important, do not shed much light on the broader patterns of civic and political behavior in the Asian American community. While Asian-origin Americans might vote in greater numbers than before, to what extent do they participate in important political activities other than voting? And beyond the political realm, how do Asian Americans engage in civic life in their own communities?

This article attempts to answer these and other pertinent questions about Asian Americans’ civic and political engagement. It is the fourth in a series of articles that explore the political and social preferences of Asian Americans in California, a state where today Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up nearly 16 percent of the state’s population.

Like the others in the series, this article draws on a 2022 online survey of 1,000 California-based Asian Americans conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in partnership with the data and analytics firm YouGov. The sample includes respondents from twenty-one Asian-origin groups but excludes Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

Specifically, this article examines patterns of civic and political engagement among California’s Asian Americans. It focuses on how respondents engage with their communities, how they relate to politics, and how they interact with political campaigns—both as campaign contributors and consumers.

The first article in this series explored the political preferences of the community in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections, while the second looked at their policy preferences, and the third unpacked the nature of Asian American identity. The fifth and final article in this series will explore the community’s foreign policy attitudes.