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USC Scholar Conducts Largest U.S. Survey of Asian American Voters

Results indicate potential impact for Prop. 8 & presidential election

By Suzanne Wu
October 1, 2008

USC Scholar Conducts Largest U.S. Survey of Asian American Voters

A new report by political scientist Janelle Wong of USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences reveals that a majority of Asian American likely voters oppose a constitutional amendment that would define “marriage as between a man and a woman, thus barring marriage between gay and lesbian couples.”

Fifty-seven percent of likely Asian American voters did not favor the amendment, 32 percent favored it, and 11 percent were undecided, according to the report.

“Given that Asian Americans once faced barriers to marriage based on racial restrictions, these findings do not surprise me,” Wong said. “It’s important for the campaigns to recognize that more than one out of ten likely Asian American voters remain undecided about this issue, so they may benefit by focusing their energies on this group of persuadable voters.”

The 2008 National Asian American Survey (NAAS) conducted by Wong and colleagues from UC Berkeley, UC Riverside, Rutgers and the State University of New Jersey is the most comprehensive survey of Asian American political views ever conducted.

The new report, presented by Wong and Karthick Ramakrishnan (UC Riverside) on Oct. 15 at a community roundtable in USC Davidson Conference Center, focuses on the California population of the survey.

Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) introduced the researchers at the event, noting that the survey results indicate that "the Asian American population is no longer just an asterisk which says 'fastest-growing segment of the population.’"

California has the largest Asian American population in the country, with 5 million residents that account for one-third of the national Asian American population and nearly 14 percent of the population in California. 

Notably, just a few weeks before the election, more than one-third of Asian American voters in California are still undecided about their presidential picks. Forty-two percent support Senator Barack Obama and 24 percent support Senator John McCain, according to the report.

Wong and Ramakrishnan also point out that Asian Americans in California are far more likely than Asian Americans elsewhere in the United States to get political information from ethnic language media. More than 40 percent of Asian American citizens in California obtain political information from Asian-language television and a similar proportion turn to Asian-language newspapers.

“The sheer size of Asian-language media markets means that advertisements and campaign coverage in Asian language media are important aspects of the Asian American vote,” Ramakrishnan said. “It is not surprising to find, then, that more than one in four Asian American likely voters say they would benefit from having access to election materials in an Asian language.”

The report also highlights key regional differences in California. Asian Americans in California lean towards Obama overall, while support for McCain is highest among Asian Americans in Orange County, San Diego and the Inland Empire.

The report also examines how preferences for presidential candidates vary by national origin. Support for McCain is highest among Vietnamese likely voters, with 53 percent in California planning to vote for the Republican candidate, according to the survey.

In contrast, a majority of Asian Indians (63 percent) and Japanese Americans (53 percent) plan to vote for Obama. Korean likely voters favor Obama (34 percent) only slightly over McCain (31 percent), with more than one-third still undecided.

Tanzila Ahmed (Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance), Julian Do (New American Media), Dan Ichinose (Asian Pacific American Legal Center) and Karin Wang (Asian Pacific American Legal Center/API Equality-LA) also spoke at the roundtable.

The full NAAS study, including information on the survey methodology, is available online at: http://www.naasurvey.com/