Welcome to Voices Of Color, a column that explores what’s on the minds of voters of color in this year’s midterm elections. Too often, media coverage focuses on the political preferences of white people with euphemisms like “suburban women” or “middle class.” But in this column, we want to know what makes voters of color tick.
We want to explore their views on politics, policy, the future of our democracy, our two-party system and everything in between. We hope that this column offers fresh perspectives from the minds of those whose political opinions are often overlooked or assumed. If you think you might be a good fit for this column, fill out this form — we might get in touch.
Meet Luke Bay, a Korean American Californian who once considered himself a “hardcore pro-life, pro-second Amendment, Jesus-loving patriotic Christian.” Years later, the 43-year-old now describes himself as a “patriotic, atheist, socialist” who is pro-choice, supports single-payer healthcare and wants to repeal the Second Amendment.
Then there’s Syed Fahim, a Pakistani American who lives in Pennsylvania. “I am a rare outlier because I’m a Muslim American, the son of two immigrants and a naturalized citizen myself. But I’m still a strong supporter of the Republican Party,” he told me. While Fahim did vote against former President Donald Trump in 2020, he typically supports GOP candidates in down-ballot races — and plans to stick with that tradition this year.
Asian American voters like Bay and Fahim are part of a group with growing political power. According to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center, more than 13.3 million Asian Americans are projected to be eligible to vote in 2022 — up 9 percent from the last midterm cycle in 2018. Under that broad umbrella are a range of ethnic identities with different political leanings: For example, while Indian Americans tend to strongly favor Democrats, Vietnamese Americans are more evenly divided between Democrats and the GOP. On the whole, however, Asian Americans typically lean Democratic.
To that end, I wanted to see what was on the minds of five Asian American voters in the weeks leading up to this year’s midterm elections. Of course, as was the case with Latino Americans, I knew that I couldn’t paint this group with a broad brush. These voters’ policy preferences and concerns about the country are varied (as the interviews below show), and survey research backs this up, too. According to the 2022 Asian American Voter Survey, Filipino Americans were the group most likely to say that immigration, inflation and health care were “extremely important” in deciding how they’d vote in November, while Indian Americans were the group most likely to prioritize gun control. Vietnamese Americans, meanwhile, were the ethnic group most likely to say foreign policy in Asia was extremely important in deciding how they’d cast a ballot.
But these voters’ clout will likely be felt most in just a few states. In its analysis, Pew estimated that in terms of raw numbers, most Asian Americans reside in California, New York, Texas, Hawaii and New Jersey. But their electoral weight varies — for example, in Hawaii, because it’s a small state, Asian American voters make up more than half of eligible voters. And although 32 percent of the country’s Asian American electorate lives in California, Asian Americans make up about 16 percent of the state’s eligible voters there.
Most of Hawaii’s eligible voters are Asian American
States with the highest share of eligible voters who are Asian American
Asian Americans are generally a highly politically engaged group. (More than two-thirds of Asian American registered voters said that they planned to vote this midterm cycle.) But political parties don’t always treat them that way: Per this year’s Asian American Voter Survey, 52 percent of respondents said they haven’t been contacted by the Democratic Party in the past year, while 60 percent say they haven’t been contacted by the Republican Party. One frustration I heard in my conversations, too, was that Asian Americans are often treated as one bloc versus individual, unique communities.
“Both parties tend to think that Asian American voters vote uniformly,” said Rohan Vaidya, a 24-year-old Indian American living in Texas. “The way this manifests is through political outreach because you can tell that certain outreach isn’t targeted toward the specific concerns of Asian American voters. Instead, it’s based on assumptions about how this massive community as a whole will vote.”
The interviews below have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Alex Samuels: What are the most important issues to you heading into the midterm elections?
Syed Fahim (31, Pakistani American, Pennsylvania, Republican): The No. 1 issue for me is the economy. I’ve seen the prices of everything around me go up — whether it’s gas, food or groceries. Although I am what many would consider upper middle-class, I’ve still had to budget and cut back on some quality of life expenditures, like vacations or the purchasing of other leisure goods and services.
Tiansang Sylverne (38, Asian American, Illinois, Democrat): I generally care about social issues more than fiscal issues. So after the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, abortion access is now very important to me. Gun control is, too.
Luke Bay (43, Korean American, California, independent): Gun control and health care.
Rohan Vaidya (24, Indian American, Texas, independent): Health care, the economy and preserving the health of our democracy.
Kylin Beeson (31, Chinese American, Washington, Democrat): Abortion access is very important. Even though abortion is legal where I live, I still think this is a relevant issue and that it should be legal for women everywhere. Addressing climate change is also top of mind for me. I’d really like to see more politicians who promote policies and actions toward that.
AS: Polling suggests that Asian American voter turnout spiked in 2020. Were you especially motivated to vote that year? And are you planning to vote in the 2022 midterm elections?
Sylverne: I was very motivated to vote in 2020. I think a lot of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters like myself were tired after enduring four years under Donald Trump and were ready to vote him out of office. I personally had many issues with him, including the fact that I think he’s not ethical and lacks morals. I’m also planning on voting in this year’s midterm elections, but I wouldn’t say I’m more motivated than I was in prior years.
Beeson: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that voting is a privilege, so voting in 2020 was very important to me — as is voting this year. While voting is a constitutional right, there are so many ways in which people’s right to vote is being restricted or is made more difficult. As a result, I don’t take voting for granted. I take voting seriously and want to make sure that my voice is heard.
AS: Do you see Asian Americans more as one distinct group or as a set of different ethnic and racial groups?
Fahim: I think we’re very diverse, with very diverse viewpoints. As a Pakistani American and practicing Muslim, my concerns are probably very different from those of, say, people of Eastern Asian descent — whether they be Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean American. So I view us not as a monolith, but as a range of many different ethnicities.
Bay: Asia is such a huge continent with many different cultures. As a Korean American, I know that I have completely different experiences from other Asian Americans. My family came here — through a green card program for nurses that my mom qualified for — seeking new opportunities. And the struggles they faced in life are different from the ones that other Asian Americans suffered.
Beeson: I definitely see us as a mix of different ethnic and racial groups and not as a homogeneous voting bloc. We come from so many different counties and all have different experiences. For example, I’m an Asian American adopted from China, and I currently live in a very rural, predominantly white neighborhood. So the things that affect me are different from the things that affect Asian Americans who live in urban areas or someone who has just come into the United States. I think everyone’s experience is unique and different, so you can’t make broad generalizations about Asian Americans.
AS: Do you identify more as an Asian American or as a member of a specific Asian American ethnic or racial group?
Fahim: I identify more with a specific subset of the Asian American community, which is Pakistani or South Asian American.
Sylverne: I identify more with Asian Americans in general. I’m Chinese, but I don’t know if there’s a huge difference between Chinese Americans and Korean Americans.
Bay: If people ask, I’m Korean American first.
Vaidya: I personally identify more with being Indian American than I do with being Asian American.
Beeson: I would normally say Asian American, but if someone asks me my specific ethnic or racial background, I’d say Chinese American. I don’t know if I feel strongly toward either, though.
AS: Do your values align more with the Republican Party or Democratic Party? Does your racial and ethnic identity affect your political views? If so, how?
Fahim: Socially, I’m more inclined to support the Republican Party. My wife and I are both practicing Muslims, so our religious and social values tend to skew more toward the right. When it comes to things like health care, however, we tend to skew more to the left. But I don’t think my racial and ethnic identity affects my politics, per se. I don’t think that being of a certain race or religion predisposes me to one political party over the other.
Bay: I used to be a super hardcore right-winger. But during the Obama presidency, the hypocrisy of the right started popping up and showing its ugly face. I started to realize, “Hey, these people don’t even like me as a person.” Plus, later on in life I did a lot of traveling and that opened my eyes up to things touted by Democrats — like universal health care and universal access to education.
But I think what really made me turn away from Republicans is what happened when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. At this point, his business had already failed and he was scraping by making a living as a roofer. When he needed help with his health care, the U.S. wouldn’t do anything. He got lucky enough to go back to Korea and get health care there as an American citizen, but Missouri, where we were living at the time, didn’t approve him for treatment until after he passed away.
I do think that my racial and ethnic identity affects my politics now. It seems like the Republican Party doesn’t want immigrants here and that they don’t even see us as real people. Democrats have their own issues with how they treat Asians, but at least they’ll say that I’m welcome to be here. I just see more racist crap from Republicans than I do [from] Democrats.
Vaidya: I’d say that my values have become more aligned with the Democratic Party over time. My racial and ethnic identity plays a role in the sense that I don’t feel as though the Republican Party adequately represents the interests of the Indian American community or the Asian American community at large.
AS: Americans are very concerned about the economy and inflation. Have these issues personally affected you, and will they affect who you vote for this fall?
Fahim: I work in a community health setting where I serve people who either have no insurance or are on Medicaid, so I interact with the most vulnerable in our society in terms of having access to health care. I know that they’re affected way more than I am by inflation and price increases, but I’ve felt the effects of inflation, too, even at my income level. Like I said, we did have to cut back a bit on some leisure spending. That said, I already intended to vote [for Republicans] this November, and I don’t see that changing.
Sylverne: Everyone can see the gas prices rising and prices in grocery stores increasing, but this is a global issue. It’s not just happening in America. But, in general, fiscal issues are just not as important to me when it comes to who I vote for.
Vaidya: The economy and inflation are definitely top issues for me headed into the midterms. Inflation has affected me because buying things like food or consumer goods has become more expensive, which puts a strain on my finances. Still, as far as voting goes, the economy and inflation don’t impact my vote this fall insofar as they’re not the main bases on which I’m voting. So, while the economy is important, it doesn’t necessarily override other policy concerns that I have.
Beeson: I definitely feel the impact of inflation, especially when I’m grocery shopping or going to the gas station. I’ve felt like I should cut back on my spending and be more conservative about not buying things that I don’t really need. But I wouldn’t say inflation is going to affect my vote. I still think I’m going to vote for Democrats this fall.
AS: Are there certain policy issues on which you trust one party more than the other? If so, what are they?
Fahim: When it comes to gun rights and tax policy, I think the Republican Party reflects my values more closely. But in terms of things like foreign policy, health care and abortion access (but only for the life or health of the mother or in cases of rape or incest), I tend to agree more with the Democratic Party.
Sylverne: On abortion access, gun control, environmental issues and preserving our democracy, I trust Democrats more. But with fiscal issues, it’s hard to tell. I don’t agree with the trickle-down economics approach that Republicans have adopted, but I don’t agree with all of Democrats’ economic policies, either.
Beeson: In regards to women’s health, the economy, climate change, marijuana legalization at the national level and criminal justice issues, I trust Democrats more. But that’s probably all just bias. Lately, I feel such disgust for most Republicans because of their policies and attitudes these days, so I can’t say that there are policy issues where I trust their judgment more.
AS: Have you noticed a lurch either to the left or right among Asian American voters within your community? Has your political ideology changed over the last few years?
Fahim: I’ve noticed that people in my community tend to skew left. And with the election of Trump in 2016, I’ve seen that accelerate more and more — even among my friends and people in my age range. In regards to myself, however, I would say that, in the last few years, I’ve moved more to the right. When someone goes out of their way to oppose you and your views, it makes you more defensive and dig in a little bit more to the positions that perhaps weren’t so hard and fast before. At least, that’s how I am personally.
Bay: People here have moved a little toward the right, particularly on guns and law and order issues, because of the attacks that happened to Asian people as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. My sisters live in New York, and they even tell me they’re afraid to go outside sometimes. And I know in Southern California, where I live, that a lot of Asians have bought guns for protection. So in that sense, they’re more on Republicans’ side when it comes to guns, but it’s mainly so they can protect themselves. My political ideology hasn’t changed in the last few years, though.
Vaidya: In my estimation, younger Indian Americans and younger Asian American voters still seem very tied to the Democratic Party. But I have seen older Asian American voters, particularly middle-aged men in my community, move toward the Republican Party in recent years. But that’s just my anecdotal experience. As for myself, I’d say that my political ideology has definitely changed. A few years ago, I might have described myself as a Republican-leaning independent, and now I would say I’m a Democratic-leaning independent.
AS: Were you affected by discrimination as a result of COVID-19 pandemic? And if so, has that affected your vote previously — and will it affect your vote this year?
Fahim: No, I wasn’t personally affected by any discrimination related to the COVID-19 pandemic. At this point in time, COVID-19 and its after-effects have almost no effect at all on determining who I would vote for in 2022.
Vaidya: Fortunately, I wasn’t the target of any discrimination, but I know people of Asian descent who were either the targets of racist comments or were actively threatened in public places. Personally, discrimination as a result of the pandemic won’t affect my vote this November, but I know many people who say they’ll be voting differently this year as a result of the discrimination they suffered throughout the pandemic.
Beeson: I experienced some microaggressions early on. For example, I would go to the grocery store and people would not want to stand near me. But I haven’t experienced anything overt or aggressive, thankfully. I don’t think the discrimination I experienced, however, will affect my vote this fall.
AS: A recent report claimed that only about half of Asian Americans said they have been contacted by either major political party. Have you been contacted by either Democrats or Republicans this year?
Fahim: The Republican Party has reached out repeatedly in order to solicit donations, if that counts. But in terms of just contacting me to connect or get involved, I haven’t had either major political party reach out to me this cycle.
Vaidya: I have been contacted only by Democrats and only by one campaign, which would be the Beto O’Rourke campaign [for governor] in Texas. They’ve primarily reached out through mass texts soliciting donations.
Beeson: I have not been contacted ever in my life as far as I can recall, but I also don’t put myself out there very often.
AS: What is a common stereotype or misconception about Asian American voters that you wish both parties would stop falling for?
Fahim: I think a common misconception is that Asian Americans are a monolith. … I wish there was a little bit more recognition of our differences versus just lumping us all under one ‘Asian American’ category.
Bay: On the Republican side, it’d be the ‘model minority’ myth. Meanwhile, Democrats seem to take us for granted because they assume all people of color will vote left. Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead summed up my feeling perfectly when he said, “Sometimes I wonder if the Asian American experience is what it’s like when you’re thinking about everyone else, but no one is thinking about you.” That’s how I feel treated by both parties.
Leave a Reply