The National Asian American Survey (NAAS) has been described as the most comprehensive survey of Asian-American political views ever, with 4,394 people surveyed by phone (between Aug. 18 and Sept. 26), including 920 Indian Americans. A sub-report specific to California has just been released (download it here), and it has some important findings, especially considering that California has more Asian-Americans than any other state. The sample comprised 1,891 Californians, including 229 Indian Americans. Scroll down to read our Q&A with Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan, one of the authors of the report. First, some of the findings:
- 67% of Asian Americans who are citizens are considered "likely voters," with Indians just above the norm (68%), following Japanese (81%), Koreans (73%) and Filipinos (70%) and ahead of Chinese (62%)
- Indians are the strongest supporters of Barack Obama, preferring him by 62% to just 12% who favor John McCain (with 25% still undecided). Nationally, 53% of Indians favor Obama. On the other end of the spectrum in California were Vietnamese Americans, who favor McCain by 52% to 21%. Asian Americans in California favor Obama by 42% to 24%. (click on the table at right to enlarge it)
- Asian Americans are twice as likely to be Democrat as Republican (33% to 16%), with Indians by far the most Democratic (50%, vs. just 7% Republicans, 13% Independent and 30% Non-partisan).
- Those who think of Asians as socially conservative would be surprised to find that they oppose a ban on same-sex marriage. 57% of likely voters do not support Proposition 8, a ballot initiative which would eliminate the existing right for same-sex couples to marry. 32% favor the initiative. More on the possible rationale at the San Jose Mercury-News, where analysts suggest the opposition could be due to discrimination that Asians have themselves faced in this country.
- "Those who participate in the politics of their home countries in some manner are actually more likely to vote in the United States than those who do not (65% versus 50%)."
To better understand some of these findings, we got in touch with Karthick Ramakrishnan, one of the authors of the report. Ramakrishnan is an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside. He noted that the survey, which he called "unprecedented in size and scope for election-year surveys of Asian Americans," only addressed Indians, and not South Asians as a whole, because "it is very difficult to get statistically reliable samples of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis."
- on Indians and voter participation
Ramakrishnan: They have a higher rate of voter participation than many other Asian groups, but the same advantage does not extend to other forms of political participation (see Table 15 in the report). Higher voter participation is likely due to three main factors: a) South Asians tend to have higher incomes than other groups, b) they have the highest levels of English proficiency, and c) they have stronger party identification than many other Asian groups. Still, their participation is lower than the national average, with lower party attachments and lack of voter mobilization being an important factor.
- on Indians and the Democratic party
Ramakrishnan: Their identification with the Democratic Party is very strong (second only to Japanese Americans, who traditionally have been very strongly pro-Democrat). Still, one half are either Independent or Non-Partisan (don't think of themselves in terms of party labels). This latter finding is due mostly to two factors: a) first-generation immigrants often take a long time to develop party attachments, and that cause is not helped by the fact that presidential campaigns do little to mobilize Asian American voters, most of whom live in "safe states", and b) many second-generation youth are still grappling with their political identities.
- on gay marriage and what might explain the Asian opposition to Proposition 8 (Ramakrishnan told the Mercury-News that Asians historically considered homosexuality "an issue of fundamental morality.")
Ramakrishnan: On the issue of gay marriage, we did not ask a separate question outside the context of the constitutional amendment in California. Other surveys in California of Latinos (from the Public Policy Institute of California) suggest that, while Latinos are evenly divided on whether gay marriage is OK, a clear majority oppose a constitutional amendment that would ban it. We hypothesize a similar dynamic for Asian American populations. Many are still ambivalent about gay marriage (indeed, the "gay lifestyle" as many put it), but they do not support a constitutional ban on gay marriage. The statement about "morality" was not from this survey itself, but an inference based on other studies and news stories about Asian American attitudes towards homosexuality over time.
- on the findings that people who pay attention to homeland politics are more active in American politics
Ramakrishnan: My hunch has always been that people who are active in homeland politics are inherently interested in politics. So there is no necessary tradeoff between homeland and domestic participation. Indeed, given the importance of US foreign policy in South Asia, and the growing business ties and economic interdependence, it is understandable that interest in the homeland will help foster participation in the U.S. Our data supports this hypothesis, but it would be good to have similar studies in the future to see if this pattern holds up.
Earlier on SAJAforum (or visit our "Resources for 2008 Election" page):
- Study says Indians are slow to assimilate in America
- Exit polls of South Asian voters from 2006 shows strong Democratic preference (note: the exit polls focused on areas with high concentrations of South Asian voters, while the NAAS above was conducted by phone)
- High Asian turnout sends Senator George Allen packing
- Indians switching from Clinton to Obama
- Obama's "I am desi" comment, and dal-making ability
- SAJA briefing with senior Clinton and Obama supporters
Please leave your comments below, either on the study in general or on the finding that Indian voters overwhelmingly support Obama.