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Asian-Americans backed Obama overwhelmingly

Support by 73% surpasses that of Latinos, women

 State Representative Tackey Chan of Quincy said President Obama’s personal biography appeals to Asian-Americans, partly because he knows what it’s like “to struggle a little.”

SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

State Representative Tackey Chan of Quincy said President Obama’s personal biography appeals to Asian-Americans, partly because he knows what it’s like “to struggle a little.”

Asian-American voters backed President Obama more strongly than either women or Latinos, two groups widely credited with his reelection.

Obama’s national health care law and balanced approach to deficit reduction, coupled with Republican Mitt Romney’s hard-line stance on immigration and harsh rhetoric aimed at China, pushed Asian-American support for Obama to new heights, analysts and polls suggest.

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Exit polling by The New York Times showed Asian-Americans voted for Obama over Romney 73 percent to 26 percent, after backing him against John McCain 62 to 35.

The final result aligned closely with a survey taken on the eve of Election Day by the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, which also showed 60 percent support for government-guaranteed access to health insurance, much higher than the overall electorate.

“A lot of Asian-Americans come from places with subsidized health care, where that’s an expectation, and it’s an important issue for them,” said Lisa Hasegawa, the coalition’s executive director.

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State Representative Tackey Chan, a Quincy Democrat, said Obama’s personal biography also appeals to many Asian-American voters.

“He knows what it’s like to have an immigrant parent, to struggle a little,” Chan said. “He spent some time in Indonesia growing up. I think they feel like he’s more likable and more sensitive to issues affecting Asian-Americans.”

In the Asian coalition’s poll, 47 percent said they believe Obama “truly cares about them,” compared with 14 percent who said the same about Romney. Seven percent said Romney is “hostile” toward Asian-Americans.

When a candidate attacks China as an economic cheater, as Romney did in the campaign, it raises fears among many Asian-Americans.

“There’s a lot of blowback on the people who live here,” he said.

Obama’s 47-point advantage among Asian-Americans on Election Day was bigger than his edge among Latinos, 44 points, or women, 11 points.

“Of all the different groups you break voters into, Asian-Americans are second only to African-Americans and blacks in their support for Obama,” said Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian-American Studies at UMass-Boston.

Women represent a slight majority of the electorate, and one in 10 voters are now Latino, an all-time high. The size of these voting blocs makes them favorite targets for both parties, who in this election poured millions of dollars into ads attempting to woo their members.

Asian-Americans — who are 3.4 percent of the electorate, up from 2.7 percent in 2008 — received far less attention on the airwaves, yet they voted overwhelmingly for Democrats.

Nam Pham, executive director of the Vietnamese American Initiative for Development in Dorchester, said simple outreach can win votes.

“In our culture, we respect people who show us respect,” Pham said. “If you show people that you care, they will listen.”

Pham’s group helped to register about 300 Vietnamese-Americans for the election on a nonpartisan basis, but Pham said most of them probably voted for Democrats.

“In the Senate race, the [Elizabeth] Warren campaign did an excellent job of visiting and telling people here who they are and why they should vote for her,” Pham said. “[Scott] Brown was almost invisible in the Asian community.”

Chan added his opinion that Brown’s attacks on Warren’s heritage played a role in souring Asian-American and other minority voters on Brown.

Brown implied that Warren had advanced in her career as a law professor because she at one point claimed to have Native American ancestry. His suggestion was that she had taken undeserved advantage of affirmative action programs.

The strategy has been blamed for alienating women voters, by insinuating that Warren hadn’t earned her career accomplishments. Chan said the tactic also offended minorities, by diminishing theirs.

“Are you saying minorities only get ahead because they’re minorities?” he said. “It’s saying if you’re a minority, you automatically get a step up.”

At the same fund-raiser where he was secretly filmed criticizing the roughly 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes, Romney also joked that as a presidential candidate, “it would be helpful to be Latino.”

Verbal missteps can hurt, but most Asian-American voters focus on policy positions, said Lydia Lowe, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association in Boston, and “on issues like health care, education, there’s more of a connection to the Democratic agenda than to the Mitt Romney agenda.”

Pham said his 80-year-old mother, who speaks little English, voted for Obama after learning in Vietnamese-language media about Romney’s plan to introduce a Medicare voucher program .

Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat who on Tuesday became the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate, said many Asian-Americans lean toward the Democrats “because of the life experiences many of us have, because so many of us are close to the immigrant experience.”

Hirono, who was born in Japan, also noted that most Asian-American candidates for prominent offices are Democrats and said “faces and role models matter.”

With the power of role models in mind, Chan said he hopes the president will name Asian-Americans to influential posts.

“I’d like to see the president engage more good, talented Asian-Americans at every level,” Chan said.

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@
globe.com
. Alan Wirzbicki can be reached at awirzbicki@
globe.com.
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