Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.
While Georgia’s overall voter turnout didn’t change much between the 2018 and 2022 midterms, at least one group saw some pretty significant gains: Asian American and Pacific Islander voters.
According to Emory University political scientist Bernard Fraga, the percentage of eligible AAPI voters who participated in Georgia’s November elections went from 34.9 percent in 2018 to 37.4 percent in 2022, making for the biggest jump of any group this cycle.
Estimates from political data firms including Catalist and TargetSmart also found a similar trend when it came to the number of voters who turned out in the state. According to TargetSmart, there was an 18 percent increase in the number of AAPI voters who turned out between 2018 and 2022, outpacing increases among voters overall. The number of white and Latino voters who turned out between the two cycles also went up, by 2 percent and 3 percent respectively, while the number of Black voters who turned out declined by 7 percent.
AAPI vote share increased over 2018, too, rising to 2.3 percent of the vote from 2 percent, per TargetSmart. (The firm uses voters’ self-identification and modeling to determine how many voters are in different racial groups.)
The turnout uptick in Georgia suggests that the gains AAPI voters have made in recent cycles are enduring ones, though we don’t have national data just yet. While Georgia processes its general election voter information relatively quickly, other states likely won’t share theirs until March and April of the coming year.
What we know so far, however, indicates that AAPI voters continue to be engaged in this key battleground, and others. In the past, AAPI turnout was often low, spurring both parties to limit the time and resources spent reaching out to those voters. As their population and voter engagement has increased, however, they’ve become a pivotal group for Republicans and Democrats to court.
Currently, there are more than 13.3 million eligible AAPI voters nationwide, who comprise roughly 5.5 percent of the United States’ eligible voter population. In Georgia, there are around 253,000 eligible AAPI voters, according to APIAVote, comprising 3.4 percent of the electorate.
Despite being a small slice of the electorate in many states, AAPI voters increasingly have the numbers to swing tight races, as Georgia’s latest presidential election made clear when AAPI voters helped make the difference for Democrats. Their eligible voter population is also expanding quickly, growing 9 percent nationally between 2018 and 2022, and nearly 14 percent in Georgia in that same time.
This cycle, AAPI voters were once again part of the coalition that helped Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock win reelection in Georgia, with 59 percent of the group supporting his candidacy in the general election, according to exit polls. In the runoff, as much as 78 percent of AAPI voters backed Warnock, according to a survey from the Asian American Legal Defense Fund.
AAPI voters’ strong participation rates this year indicate that they are solidifying their political influence in the state and beyond, making clear that past gains — like in 2020, when AAPI voter turnout surged in Georgia — were not anomalies.
“Heading into the election, we were like, okay, we want to make sure that 2020 was not just a fluke,” says Christine Chen, the executive director of APIAVote.
The results in Georgia point to strong gains this cycle
A lot of turnout data is still not available, but experts note that the information so far, including Georgia’s results, indicates strong engagement among AAPI voters nationally.
In many of the states that have already disclosed voter information, AAPI voters increased their vote share relative to the 2018 midterms. In addition to Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon all saw AAPI voters holding a higher share of the overall general election vote, according to Catalist.
Additionally, at the national level, there was a 20 percent increase in AAPI voters who turned out early in 2022 relative to 2018, compared to the 13 percent increase in early voters overall, per TargetSmart. This uptick could point to higher turnout levels from AAPI voters in general.
“We are seeing correlations between surges in early vote turnout and overall turnout, so it would not be surprising to find that the AAPI gains over 2018 in early vote turnout are reflected in overall turnout as well,” Tom Bonier, the CEO of TargetSmart, told Vox.
As the group’s population has grown, both parties have ramped up their outreach to AAPI voters, though both still need to do more to lock them down. While AAPI voters continued to skew Democratic in 2022, a higher proportion voted for Republicans this cycle than in 2018, per exit polls. That shift comes as Republicans have dialed up their investment this cycle, including opening more community centers in districts with higher concentrations of AAPI voters, and recruiting AAPI candidates. According to a July Asian American Voter Survey conducted by APIAVote, AAPI Data, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an increasing segment of the group is also identifying as independent, a sign that they’re still open to both parties.
AAPI voter engagement in Georgia — which first surged following investments by Stacey Abrams’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign — has continued to grow for a number of reasons including ongoing local organizing, the impact that voters saw themselves having in 2020, and the rise in AAPI political leaders and representation in public office. The state legislature now includes a historic number of AAPI lawmakers, a development that has been meaningful for many of the voters they represent.
“After seeing the success in 2020 and the Georgia runoff, our community was finally recognized as a force, and I think people took pride in that,” says Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, the executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund.