WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders enjoys the highest level of popularity for any major candidate of either party among Asian-Americans, with his favorable score exceeding his unfavorable score by 29 percentage points with this group. His competitor for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, is not far behind, with a net favorable score of +21, while all of the Republican candidates are more disliked than liked by the fastest-growing racial group in the country. This is especially true for Donald Trump, whose favorability among Asian-Americans is underwater by 43 points.
These results come from aggregated Gallup data for the months of September, October and November, providing a combined sample of 868 self-reported Asian-Americans.
As a racial group, Asian-Americans have undergone a partisan identity change, a rare development in our politically polarized time. Just two decades ago, Asian-Americans were more apt to back GOP candidates -- in 1992, Republican President George H.W. Bush garnered 55% of the Asian-American vote as he unsuccessfully vied for re-election, according to exit poll data. But Asian-Americans have since decamped from the Republican coalition and now self-identify as Democratic (or as independents who lean Democratic) at a rate that far exceeds the portion of Asian-Americans who identify as or lean Republican.
In light of this, it may not be a surprise that of all the candidates running for president across both parties, Asian-Americans view the two leading Democratic contenders the most favorably. But among this group, Sanders is slightly ahead of his very well-known rival, despite her consistent lead in net favorability among Democrats and Democratic leaners nationally, and despite the fact that her favorable ratings are much higher among blacks and Hispanics than are Sanders'.
One reason Sanders may have an edge over Clinton, and indeed all other presidential candidates with this group, is the comparatively liberal hue of Asian-Americans. Over a third of Asian-Americans (35%) classify their ideology as liberal, much higher than the level of whites (22%), blacks (26%) and Hispanics (26%). Sanders himself is considered one of the most liberal senators in the chamber, and is generally better liked by U.S. adults who say they have a liberal political ideology.
Conversely, Asians are the least likely of the four largest racial/ethnic groups to say they have a conservative viewpoint, and undoubtedly this is a factor in the low ratings that many Asian-Americans give Republican candidates. But other factors are surely at play as well, particularly in respect to Donald Trump, the most reviled of all candidates in the eyes of many Asian-Americans. Trump has been outspoken on the issue of immigration throughout his campaign, vowing not only to end all illegal immigration (most notably with his pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border), but also to limit the level of legal immigration into the U.S. Given that around three-fourths of Asian-Americans are themselves immigrants, Trump's rhetoric has almost certainly offended a large segment of this group.
Familiarity for Most Candidates Low Among Asian-Americans
Asian-Americans have a lower level of familiarity with most of the presidential field than is true for the general population of national adults. Ninety-one percent are familiar with Clinton, similar to the national average, but the 83% who are familiar with Trump is below the national average of 91%. A majority of Asian-Americans say they know of three other candidates: Jeb Bush (66%), Chris Christie (58%) and Bernie Sanders (53%). The rest of the Republican field conjures neither a positive nor a negative impression for most Asian-Americans -- they have no opinion of the others.
While Sanders and, to a lesser degree, Clinton may welcome their positive images among Asian-Americans, the political value of their positive standing among this group is somewhat limited by several factors. Asians constitute about 5% of the adult population and, like Hispanics, are less of a factor in actual voting than their basic population percentage would suggest. Nonetheless, given they are the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S., the fact that nearly all of the GOP candidates are seen more unfavorably than favorably among Asian-Americans may be a cause for concern -- if not in this election, certainly in future ones.