President Barack Obama enjoyed soaring support from Asian Americans to win another term, a survey said yesterday, as voters elected new faces to Congress including its first Hindu lawmaker.
A poll conducted for community groups found that 73 percent of Asian Americans voted for Obama on Tuesday, a gain from the two-thirds support he won in 2008 and part of a major shift toward the Democrats over the past 20 years.
While small in total, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the United States and made up 3.4 percent of the electorate on Tuesday, up from 2.7 percent four years ago.
Obama, the first African American president, also enjoyed overwhelming backing from black and Hispanic voters, helping him offset a tilt by white voters toward his Republican rival Mitt Romney.
“It is without question that these three minority groups combined provided the margin of victory for Obama nationally but also in some key states,” said Matt Barreto, founding principal of Latino Decisions, a research firm that carried out the survey.
The survey — whose finding on Asian American support for Obama was similar to polls carried out for media outlets — said that the top issue for the community was the economy.
In one potential reason behind support for Obama, Asian Americans were supportive of his signature legislative achievement, with 60 percent saying that the government had a role to play in ensuring access to health care.
At least five Americans of Asian or Pacific Island descent, all Democrats, won new seats in Congress. In Hawaii, 31-year-old Tulsi Gabbard was elected as the first Hindu member of Congress.
Gabbard, who served in combat in Iraq, is of Samoan descent and her mother embraced the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition.
“That Gabbard won while proudly espousing her Hinduism and voicing a willingness to be a strong voice for Hindu Americans brings over two million Americans into the political landscape for the first time,” said Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation.
Mazie Hirono, who held the seat which Gabbard won, was elected to the Senate. She will be the first senator who is Buddhist and the first who was born in Japan.
“Congress is slowly, but surely, starting to better represent America,” said Representative Mike Honda, whose California district is the first on the US mainland with an Asian American majority.
In the Chicago suburbs, Tammy Duckworth, a Thai-born war veteran who lost most of her two legs in Iraq, beat controversial Republican congressman Joe Walsh.
Walsh is a hawkish supporter of Israel and campaigned for the United States to issue a visa to Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat who is shunned in Washington due to anti-Muslim riots in the Indian state in 2002.
In California, Mark Takano was elected as the first non-white member of Congress who is openly gay. Grace Meng became the first Asian American member of Congress elected from New York City.
Eight lawmakers of Asian American or Pacific Island descent were re-elected. In northern California, Indian American doctor Ami Bera was locked in a too-close-to-call race against Republican Dan Lungren.
Asian American candidates also suffered a series of defeats. In Detroit’s suburbs, Indian-born physician Syed Taj lost to conservative Kerry Bentivolio, a reindeer farmer and Santa Claus impersonator.
Despite the overwhelming Democratic tilt of the Asian American vote, the survey said that less than half of the community said it was contacted by campaigns.
“While Barack Obama’s narrative attracted Asian American voters, Mitt Romney missed an enormous opportunity to offer a direct appeal to this group,” said Lisa Hasegawa, executive director of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development.
Her group and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund organized the poll, which surveyed 800 Asian American voters and had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.