Asian Americans in California: Results from a 2022 Survey

By 2060, Asian Americans are projected to be the United States’ largest immigrant group, with their numbers estimated to surpass 46 million, or more than 10 percent of the total U.S. population. Nowhere is the demographic significance of Asian Americans more readily apparent than in California.

Published on October 17, 2023

From the Periphery to Centerstage: Asian Americans in California

By 2060, Asian Americans are projected to be the United States’ largest immigrant group, with their numbers estimated to surpass 46 million, or more than 10 percent of the total U.S. population. Asian Americans are already the fastest-growing racial/ethnic demographic in the country, with their size nearly doubling between 2000 and 2019. And, the community is steadily translating this demographic growth into increased political influence. According to the political data firm TargetSmart, Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) voter turnout in 2020 battleground states increased more than that of any other minority group.

This community’s growing demographic strength and corresponding increase in political visibility are occurring amid significant churning in America. Consider three recent developments. First, the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a worrying spike in hate crimes directed toward people of Asian heritage in many parts of the United States. Second, while Asian Americans have historically been supporters of the Democratic Party, recent evidence suggests that areas with the greatest concentration of Asian residents have seen significant vote swings toward the Republican Party. Third, the U.S. foreign policy establishment’s growing preoccupation with the China threat, and its efforts to build firmer partnerships with many of China’s neighbors, have introduced a new layer of complexity in the building of Asian American civic and political coalitions.

Nowhere is the demographic significance of Asian Americans more readily apparent than in California, the most populous state in the union. AAPI residents comprise roughly 15.5 percent of California’s population, or 6 million people. According to 2020 U.S. Census data, California’s AAPI population grew by 25 percent in the past decade, faster than any other ethnic group in the state.

Over the course of the past year, the Carnegie South Asia Program published a series of five articles on the political and social preferences of Asian Americans in the Golden State. These articles draw on a September 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 ethnic origin groups but excludes Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. This compendium presents all five essays in one place so readers can enjoy a comprehensive look at the views and attitudes of this important, fast-growing population. The essays are presented in their original condition, with very modest changes to account for readability and timing. The themes of the essays are briefly introduced below.

Essay 1: Political Behavior

A wealth of survey evidence demonstrates that Asian Americans, in California and across the country, are strong supporters of the Democratic Party. However, evidence from the 2020 presidential election suggests that the Democrats’ considerable advantage over Republicans in this demographic may be diminishing. A 2022 Wall Street Journal analysis found that, in local communities where Asian Americans make up at least 70 percent of the population, there was a median shift of five percentage points toward then president Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Data compiled by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund shows that only 18 percent of Asian American voters backed the Republican Party in the 2016 presidential election in which Trump was first elected. But by the 2022 congressional midterms, that share stood at 32 percent—a stark increase in just six years.

The first essay in this series examines the political attitudes and preferences of Asian Americans in California in the context of the 2022 midterm elections. The essay seeks to provide a core set of baseline statistics about the political behavior of this important, yet understudied demographic, relating to partisan identity, political ideology, and vote choice. It also offers an assessment of political leadership, both at the state and national levels, including a look at how Asian Americans in California assess the emerging contours of the 2024 presidential race.

Essay 2: Policy Priorities

As important as political preferences are, a narrow focus on the political clout of the Asian American community and its political behavior can sometimes obscure a more fundamental question: what are the policy priorities and preferences of this emerging demographic? Put another way, what exactly do Asian American voters want from their government?

In recent years, close observers have mounted several attempts to answer this question. There is a well-regarded body of scholarship, drawn from public opinion data, that shines a light on the policy priorities of this burgeoning community. “What makes Asian American voters tick?” has also been the subject of growing media attention, especially as the community’s general tilt toward the Democratic Party can no longer be taken for granted. Some evidence suggests that the partisan inclinations of Asian Americans have been diversifying. In addition, in the wake of a worrying rise in hate crimes targeting people of Asian origin following the coronavirus pandemic, civil society organizations have devoted greater attention to ensuring Asian Americans voices are heard in the corridors of power.

The second essay in this series represents a modest attempt to add to this growing body of work. Specifically, it explores the policy preferences of California’s Asian Americans on the eve of the 2022 midterm elections. It looks at policy attitudes through four prisms: prominent issues of contemporary relevance; key ballot initiatives scheduled for 2022 and 2024; the technology sector; and higher education.

Essay 3: Identity Considerations

While the recent attention showered on the political preferences of Asian Americans is welcome—as it has long existed as a footnote in accounts of contemporary American politics—discussions of the political mobilization, partisan leanings, and policy priorities of “Asian Americans” often ignore the fact that this demographic is large and internally heterogeneous.

Indeed, the question “What does it mean to be Asian in America?” is not a question with a simple, universal answer. As a Pew Research Center study on Asian Americans eloquently puts it, “No single experience defines what it means to be Asian in the United States today. . . . Asian Americans’ lived experiences are in part shaped by where they were born, how connected they are to their family’s ethnic origins, and how others—both Asians and non-Asians—see and engage with them in their daily lives.”

The third essay in the series delves into what it means to be an Asian American in California in the contemporary period. Once one discards the assumption that “Asian American” is a static identity viewed in the same way by all members of the community, a set of questions emerges: How do Asian Americans conceive of their identity? Do Indian-origin and Chinese-origin Americans embrace the “Asian American” label to the same degree? How do Asians in the United States balance their own national origin identities with their connection to America? To what extent are the social networks of Asian-origin Americans comprised of other Asian Americans who come from similar backgrounds? And what forms of identity-based discrimination do they experience in America today and on what grounds?

This third essay attempts to answer these and other pertinent questions about Asian American identity.

Essay 4: Patterns of Civic and Political Engagement

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 sizable 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. In fact, Asian American voters increased their turnout at the polls in every 2020 battleground state, more than any other minority group. The increase in Asian American voter turnout even 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.

The fourth article in this series explores detailed data on the way in which Asian Americans in California engage with their community, in both political and civic terms. 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?

Essay 5: Foreign Policy Attitudes

In recent years, U.S. foreign policy has engineered a reorientation toward Asia. Whether it is referred to as a “pivot,” “tilt,” or “rebalance,” successive U.S. administrations have made it clear, through public statements and policy documents, that they intend to place Asia at the heart of U.S. foreign policy strategy in the twenty-first century.

Recent initiatives from U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration have continued, and indeed accelerated, this trend. In February 2022, the White House released its Indo-Pacific Strategy—a document that outlines its attempts to strengthen America’s position in “every corner of the region, from Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, to South Asia and Oceania, including the Pacific Islands.” Through initiatives such as AUKUS (a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and the Quad, a strategic partnership between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, it has attempted to reinforce its words through tangible deeds.

While there are multiple objectives behind this reorientation, arguably the most important is the desire of the United States to contain the economic, political, and security challenges posed by a rising China. Indeed, Democrats and Republicans in Washington, who rarely agree on anything, appear to share a more hawkish position on China than in years past.

America’s dedication to the Asian theater and the rising political temperature in Washington over U.S.-China relations raise intriguing questions about how Asian Americans perceive these changes. This is the subject of the fifth and final essay in our series. How important is foreign policy in the minds of Asian Americans when they select their leaders? To what extent is the United States successfully managing its relations with Asia? Is there popular support for the new “get tough” consensus on China? And how, if at all, is foreign policy dividing—rather than uniting—the Asian diaspora community in America? This essays frames initial answers to these and other pertinent questions.

Survey Design

The data analyzed here are based on an original online survey of 1,000 California-based Asian American residents. The survey was designed by scholars at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and conducted by polling firm YouGov between September 9 and September 26, 2022.

YouGov recruited respondents from its proprietary panel of nearly 2 million U.S. residents. Only adult respondents (ages eighteen and above) who are full-time residents of California and who belong to one of twenty-one Asian-origin groups were eligible to participate in the survey.1

These twenty-one ethnic subgroups account for 97.4 percent of the Asian American and Pacific Islander population in California, according to 2020 U.S. Census data.2 The YouGov survey did not include respondents who principally identify as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The survey was fielded in English (see the next section for additional discussion).

YouGov employs a sophisticated sample-matching procedure to ensure to the greatest extent possible that the respondent pool is representative of the Asian American community in California; the procedure uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey as a target sample frame. All the analyses in this study employ sampling weights to ensure representativeness. The overall margin of error for the sample is +/- 3 percent. This margin of error is calculated at the 95 percent confidence interval.

The survey instrument contains an extensive range of questions organized across six modules: basic demographics, identity and discrimination, politics, policy preferences, foreign policy, and civic and political life. Respondents were allowed to skip questions except for important demographic questions that determined the nature of other survey items.

Strengths and Limitations

As related research has shown, surveys of Asian Americans have to contend with several thorny methodological challenges. While their numbers have increased, Asian Americans are still a distinct minority—even in California, where they make up almost 16 percent of the population—making it difficult to recruit sufficiently large samples for surveys.

One major benefit of working with an extensive survey panel, such as the one maintained by YouGov, is that it provides access to large sample sizes that allow researchers to make reliable estimates about even relatively small populations of interest. However, online panels have a significant drawback: most online survey panels are conducted in English, and around seven in ten eligible Asian-origin voters report that they only speak English at home or speak the language “very well.”

Therefore, the survey results presented in this article cannot mechanically be extrapolated to the Asian American community in California at large. For instance, this survey’s sample includes a larger share of U.S. citizens than California’s Asian American population as a whole. It is best to treat the survey findings as representative of the views of English-proficient Californians of Asian origin.

Despite this caveat, this survey serves as an important barometer given that, in the years to come, the characteristics of the Asian American population will increasingly resemble those of the sample studied here.



The authors are grateful to Alexander Marsolais, Alexis Essa, Michael Finch, and their colleagues at YouGov for their help with the design and execution of the survey. Caroline Duckworth and Angela Saha were instrumental in designing the survey questionnaire. Alie Brase, Amanda Branom, Haley Clasen, Ryan DeVries, Aislinn Familetti, Lindsay Maizland, Lori Merritt, and Jocelyn Soly provided excellent editorial, graphic design, and production assistance. Any errors found in this article are entirely the authors’.


1 The included ethnic subgroups are as follows: Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Malaysian, Mongolian, Nepali, Pakistani, Singaporean, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, Thai, and Vietnamese.

2 This percentage was calculated from population numbers from 2020 America Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.