NEW YORK – Evidence from recent election cycles suggests Republicans have some distance to go in winning minority support in major elections. But there was at least some indication from Tuesday night’s exit polls of 129 respondents that the GOP may be making some headway with Asian-Americans, the fastest-growing minority group in the United States. The data may show the value of Republican engagement with minority voters — particularly since the 2012 election.
National exit polling of voters in House races last night found that almost half of Asian-Americans — 49 percent — supported the Republican candidate. This is about twice the share who supported Mitt Romney in exit polling conducted after the 2012 presidential election. It also reverses a trend that began roughly during the 1990s, of increasing Asian-American support for Democratic candidates (starting with Bill Clinton).
The issues that Asian voters identified as most significant mirrored those of the general electorate — the economy first, followed by health care, foreign policy and immigration. Notably, many more Asian voters (21 percent) identified foreign policy as the most important issue facing the country as the electorate did generally (12 percent).
The marked emphasis on foreign policy among these voters is still noteworthy — and outside the margin of error for the poll. So it’s possible that some of the president’s struggles in foreign policy helped to explain the relative success that Republicans had with Asian-American voters.
But another (not necessarily conflicting) explanation is that Republicans finally devoted some time, attention and resources to cultivating Asian voters.
The Republican National Committee focused on outreach to them in key races in Virginia and Colorado, and also played a part in targeted congressional races in California and other states.
The focus on Virginia and Colorado was particularly noteworthy, as both states have come to be bellwethers in national elections — and places where even relatively small groups of voters can make a big difference in a presidential contest.
In Virginia, the Asian vote is becoming increasingly significant. A recent report on NPR noted that Asian-Americans make up 5 percent of Virginia’s population, a 68 percent increase during the last decade. Senate candidate Ed Gillespie and House candidate Barbara Comstock led events in the Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian and Filipino communities. Comstock was victorious in a challenging congressional district, while Gillespie’s showing against Sen. Mark Warner was far more competitive than most people expected (with votes left to be counted).
Similarly, in Colorado, the Republican National Committee held events in the Korean and Chinese communities for Senate candidate Cory Gardner, House incumbent Mike Coffman and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez. Gardner and Coffman won, while Beauprez came up just short.
While it’s premature to argue that Republicans have figured out how to appeal to Asian-American voters again, Tuesday’s results should encourage those looking to build support for Republican candidates and policies in minority communities. The real test will come in the 2016 presidential race.
Lanhee Chen (firstname.lastname@example.org) contributes to Bloomberg View.