Polling and data analysts are finally obtaining actual voter files from the 2020 election, freeing them from their reliance on questionable exit polling. Some of the findings confirm what we already knew: the decline of non-college-educated Whites as a percentage of the electorate (from 51 percent in 2008 to 44 percent in 2020); the record-high gender gap; GOP inroads among Hispanics. But the figures also shine a light on one demographic group’s participation and influence: Asian American and Pacific Islander voters, whose surge in participation has largely been hidden in the initial post-election analysis.

TargetSmart, a Democratic political data firm, has compiled the “individual vote history for 98.5% of the 2020 general election voters,” a massive data set. “Of the 154.5 million voters for whom we’ve compiled individual vote history, just over 4 million are Asian American. That equates to 2.6% of all ballots cast,” TargetSmart determined. “Relative to the last presidential election, in 2016, the total number of ballots cast by AAPI voters increased by over 47%. For context, the total turnout for all other voters increased by only 12%.”

Moreover, these voters made a big difference in key states such as Georgia, Arizona and Nevada: “AAPI turnout in Georgia increased by almost 62,000 votes over 2016. Considering that the Biden-Harris ticket carried the state by fewer than 12,000 votes, the AAPI surge was clearly decisive." Arizona and Nevada also enjoyed a surge in AAPI voting. “Across all of the presidential battleground states, AAPI turnout increased by 357,969 votes, a breathtaking 48% increase in turnout,” TargetSmart reported.

Why are we only recently figuring this out? Well, the exit poll consortium broke out AAPI voters nationally but not always on a statewide basis. Even more egregiously, TargetSmart reported, “The Fox News Voter Analysis, for example, didn’t even mention AAPI voters. They were grouped under a catch-all ‘other’ category.” (Disclosure: I’m a MSNBC contributor.)

The invisibility of AAPI voters in post-election analysis contributed to a misunderstanding of “suburban voters.” Once a bastion of White, middle-class voters, suburbs around many major metropolitan centers have become considerably more diverse. As analysts at Catalist, a progressive data firm, pointed out, “The country is becoming more diverse, and many suburbs are changing as a result.” In those areas that are becoming more diverse, “Democrats have seen consistent gains.” When people say that the Biden-Harris ticket made inroads into the suburbs, they should be clear that it made inroads into increasingly diverse suburbs.

AAPI voters went overwhelmingly for the Democratic presidential ticket. Catalist reported, “AAPI voters remain strongly supportive of Democrats, delivering a 67% vote share to the Biden-Harris ticket, largely consistent with past elections.” AAPI voters were a significant segment of a remarkably multiracial coalition for the Biden-Harris ticket, “with 39% of his votes coming from Black, Latino, Asian, or Other races." By contrast, the disgraced former president’s coalition was "predominantly white, with 85% of his votes coming from white voters.”

Democrats also benefited from the appearance of brand-new voters in 2020. According to TargetSmart, “31.9% of all 2020 voters did not cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election. What’s especially impressive is the fact that almost half (49.4%) of all AAPI voters in 2020 did not vote in 2016.” Population growth, outreach to the AAPI community and registration efforts all played a role.

AAPI voters still represent a small segment of the electorate. But in a close election, a party’s overwhelming support among a growing segment of the electorate — especially in key battleground states with crucial electoral votes — can be the difference between winning and losing. Once campaigns understand the significance of certain segments of the electorate, they can increase outreach and deploy resources accordingly.

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