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Young Asian Americans: Informed, Engaged, but Still Face Barriers to Vote 

Asian American youth are as likely to be interested and engaged in civic life as their peers, but they’re less likely to feel politically qualified. 

Author: Peter de Guzman
Contributors: Alberto Medina, SJ McGeady

At a Glance: Main Findings

Lack of Time is a Barrier

63% of Asian American youth who didn’t vote in 2022 said they forgot or were too busy, which suggests that many are still finding the process inconvenient or time consuming.

Not Feeling Qualified

Asian American youth are 10 percentage points less likely than their non-Asian American peers to consider themselves well-qualified for political participation.

Top Issue: Climate

Asian American youth were 20-points more likely to name climate one of their top issue concerns, the only racial/ethnic group to rank it above all other issues.

In recent years, Asian Americans in the United States have increased their political participation at the ballot box and beyond elections. According to our estimates, 21% of Asian American youth voted in the 2022 midterm elections, nearly matching the 23% turnout rate of youth overall. That increased engagement has helped reverse a trend from decades past, when Asian American youth had among the lowest rates of participation of any racial/ethnic group for which we have data. 

That said, like all young people in the United States, Asian American youth continue to face barriers to participation that must be addressed to ensure equitable democratic engagement. These barriers include both logistical impediments related to lack of time and deeper issues related to feelings of civic efficacy, even as young Asian Americans report concern about issues and interest in civic life. This analysis, based on data from the 2022 CIRCLE post-election survey, underscores some of those issues and barriers.

Notes on the data: The data cited in this analysis includes young people ages 18-29 who self-identify as American citizens and as exclusively or in part as Asian Americans, including those who identify with one or more other racial/ethnic groups. This analysis only includes young Asian Americans who report they are American citizens. Because of relatively small sample size, many of the differences between Asian American and non-Asian American youth highlighted throughout this analysis are not statistically significant. We present them as potentially indicative of broader trends or inequities that can help us understand and enhance Asian American youth’s civic participation. 

Asian American Nonvoters Blame Lack of Time, Not Lack of Information

In an effort to understand the experiences of youth who did not end up participating in the 2022 midterm election, our survey asked young people who did not vote last year why they didn’t do so. Among youth overall, we found that lack of time and lack of information were often key factors. Among Asian American youth, the former was significantly more prevalent: 63% of Asian American youth who didn’t vote said they forgot or were too busy, compared to 36% of non-Asian American youth. By contrast, young Asian Americans were significantly less likely than non-Asian American youth to say they didn’t vote because they didn’t have enough information (9% vs. 22%); they were also less likely to say they didn’t cast a ballot because they didn’t think it was important. 

That data underscores that apathy is often not the largest driver of a lack of electoral participation, and that barriers to voting can be vastly different for different communities: some may not feel like they know enough about the candidates/issues or about the voting process itself, while others have the information they need but face other logistical impediments. 

Use of Ballot Boxes Drops Among Asian American Youth 

Some barriers may be related to voting method. In previous election cycles we found that Asian American youth were more likely to vote absentee, either by mailing their ballot or by dropping it off at a box or location. That was again true in 2022, at least for voting by mail: 51% of young Asian American respondents who said they voted in 2022 said they mailed in their ballot, compared to 31% of non-Asian American youth. Some of that may be attributed to the fact that in 2022, approximately 39% of Asian American youth lived in states that automatically mail ballots to all registered voters. 

However, the trend did not hold for using ballot drop boxes: in 2020, 21% of young Asian American voters said they cast their ballot that way; in 2022, just 4% did so. While this data reflects only the voting method preference of a limited number of Asian American youth who voted in our survey, it may suggest broader challenges that could have hindered the participation of young people who did not end up casting a ballot. For example, it’s notable that several states enacted policies eliminating or restricting the use of ballot drop boxes in the 2022 midterms. 

One way to ensure young people learn about any changes in voting policies and know all the voting methods available to them is for campaigns and organizations to reach out to them. In 2022, Asian American youth were about as likely as young people overall to be contacted about the election, though with some small differences in the source of that contact. 

Asian American youth were slightly less likely to be contacted by a national organization, and slightly more likely to hear from a local organization or from an organization they had not heard of about the election. That may suggest that, while some major national institutions are still neglecting Asian American youth, other organizations have taken note of their rising rates of political participation and are trying to engage them. 

Feeling Optimistic about Civic Action, but Not Qualified 

Like their peers of other races/ethnicities, Asian American youth report widely positive opinions of their desire to achieve change and their belief that it’s possible. More than three quarters of young Asian Americans in our survey said that they can help improve their community, that people who band together can create dramatic change, and that important political goals can be achieved. Those rates of optimism in the potential of civic action are broadly in line with those of other youth. 

As with other young people, those beliefs in the power of political and community engagement do not always translate to a belief that they, themselves, are prepared to participate. Despite a majority (61%) of Asian American youth reporting that they have a pretty good understanding of the important political issues facing our country, and half (50%) agreeing that they consider themselves as well-informed about politics and government as most people, just 31% said they feel “well-qualified” to participate in politics. By contrast, 41% of non-Asian American youth said they feel qualified. 

As with the barriers to casting a ballot, this data highlights that being prepared to take political action is not merely about having information, but about a supportive environment for civic development that helps youth build their skills, confidence, and efficacy. 

One potential source of support for Asian American youth is trusted peers, teachers, family, and neighbors who talk to them about elections and issues. In 2022, Asian American youth were about as likely as non-Asian American youth to hear about the election from friends and roommates, and significantly more likely to hear about it at school (27% vs. 15%). However, they were slightly less likely to hear about politics from family (50% vs. 58%), their neighbors (7% vs. 16%), or at work (19% vs. 25%). 

Young Asian Americans were also more likely than non-Asian American youth to see information about issues and the election on platforms like Instagram (25% vs. 18%) and Reddit (24% vs. 10%); but less likely on cable TV (9% vs. 14%) or public/network TV (14% vs. 20%). That presents both opportunities and challenges related to different young people’s media ecosystems

Engaged on Issues Like Climate and Participating Informally

Immediately after the 2022 election climate change was the biggest issue among Asian American youth in our survey: 42% selected it as one of their top three concerns, far higher than the 22% of non-Asian American youth who chose it. Inflation (which was the top issue for youth overall) ranked second among young Asian Americans (33% vs. 42% among non-Asian American youth), alongside other economic issues like housing (23%) and health care costs (19%) as well as issues like abortion (28%) and gun violence prevention. 

Notably, given the recent Supreme Court decision and political actions on student loan forgiveness, Asian American youth were slightly more likely than their non-Asian American peers (18% vs. 12%) to rank student loan debt/college affordability as one of their top issues. 

Young Asian Americans are taking action on those issues and engaging in other forms of civic and political participation at similar rates to youth overall. Nearly a third (29%) said they have signed a petition or joined a boycott, 15% have attended a demonstration or protest, 10% have volunteered for a political campaign, and the same percentage have donated money to one. As with other young people, besides those who said they have undertaken those civic actions, many others say they would consider doing so in the future if given the opportunity. 

There are also some indications that formal measures of political participation may not fully capture some of the ways that young Asian Americans are engaging in civic life. Nearly one in five Asian American youth (18%) said they currently participate in a mutual aid group or do other informal volunteer activities–double the rate of non-Asian American youth (9%) who said the same. Asian American youth are also slightly more likely to say they’ve done so in the past, and slightly more likely to say they’re a member of a local or school group. 

There may be untapped potential for these groups and organizations to serve as political homes for Asian American youth that connect their concerns about issues like climate and their desire to pursue political change with opportunities to grow into voters who feel well-qualified to participate in civic life.

About the Survey: The survey was developed by CIRCLE at Tufts University, and the polling firm Ipsos collected the data from their nationally representative panel of respondents and a sample of people recruited for this survey between November 9 and November 30, 2022. The study involved an online surveyed a total of 2,018 self-reported U.S. citizens ages 18 to 29 in the United States. Unless mentioned otherwise, data are for all 18- to 29-year-olds in our sample. The margin of error for the entire sample is +/- 2.2 percentage points; subsamples may have higher margins of error.