AALDEF's New Findings: 78% Korean Americans Voted for Obama; Many Faced Barriers at the Polls

Korean American Day Celebration

Korean American Day Celebration (Photo credit: MDGovpics)

New York, NY, March 27, 2013 (Washington Bangla Radio): Today, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) released detailed findings from its multilingual exit poll of 998 Korean American voters in the November 2012 elections, the largest survey of its kind in the nation. The results indicated that Korean Americans showed strong support for comprehensive immigration reform and the Democratic party candidates for President and Congress.

78% of Korean Americans polled voted for President Obama, compared to 77% of those polled nationally. Of those surveyed, 60% were enrolled in the Democratic party, while only 14% were enrolled in the Republican party, and 24% indicated that they were not enrolled in any party. The majority of Korean Americans (72%) supported immigration reform, including a path to citizenship.

AALDEF conducted the exit polls in states with large Korean American populations, which included New York, Virginia, New Jersey, Georgia, Maryland, and Massachusetts. The exit poll results are part of AALDEF’s 14-state multilingual exit poll of 9,096 Asian American voters.

During the November 2012 elections, many Korean American voters encountered barriers at polling places, including segregated voting lines in Annandale, Virginia and voters who were not allowed to vote in Georgia because they had not provided documentary proof of U.S. citizenship under Georgia's new proof of citizenship law.

“Due to issues that Korean American voters encountered, AALDEF calls on the Governor of Virginia to veto the bills SB 1256 and HB 1337, which restrict the forms of acceptable identification that voters may present at elections polls, and will prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible Virginians from voting,” said Glenn Magpantay, Director of AALDEF’s Democracy Program.

Magpantay presented the results of the 2012 exit poll on Korean American voters at the Yejin Korean Community Service Center in Annandale.


Key findings include the following:

  • A majority of Korean Americans favored comprehensive immigration reform.

72% of Korean Americans supported immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, with the highest support from voters in New York (76%), Virginia (73%), Maryland (72%), and New Jersey (71%).

76% of those who voted for Obama and 60% of those who voted for Romney supported immigration reform.

77% of Democrats, 68% of Republicans, and 64% not enrolled in any political party supported immigration reform.

Support for comprehensive immigration reform was consistent among foreign- and native-born and voters of all age groups.

  • Korean Americans have the highest levels of limited English proficiency.

Korean Americans had the lowest rate of English proficiency compared to other ethnic groups surveyed. 67% of Korean Americans spoke English less than “very well” compared to 37% of all Asian Americans nationally. Korean Americans in New Jersey had the highest rate of limited English proficiency at 72%, followed by those in New York at 69%, and those in Georgia at 60%.

  • Korean Americans are a growing portion of the electorate.

In the 2012 election, 1 out of 5 (20%) of Korean Americans were first time voters. Of the Korean American voters surveyed, 31% in Maryland, 26% in Virginia, 25% in Georgia, 22% in New Jersey, 16% in New York, and 8% in Massachusetts were first-time voters.

  • The majority of Korean Americans were enrolled as Democrats

60% of Korean Americans were enrolled as Democrats, 14% were enrolled as Republicans, and lmost one quarter (24%) were not enrolled in any political party. Findings varied by state. 75% of Korean Americans in New York, 60% in Massachusetts, and 54% in Maryland were enrolled in the Democratic party. However, in Georgia, 46% of Korean Americans were not enrolled in any party.

  • The majority of Korean Americans voted for the Democratic candidate for President and Congress.

78% of Korean Americans voted for Obama. The highest support came from Massachusetts (85%), New York (85%), New Jersey (76%), and Virginia (74%). The majority of voters in Maryland (68%) and Georgia (60%) also voted for Obama.

Support for President Obama was consistent across all categories, including first-time (80%), foreign- (77%) and native-born (87%), limited English proficient (78%) and English proficient (78%) voters, and voters of all age groups.

The major factors influencing the Korean American vote for President were economy/jobs (48%), civil rights/immigrants rights (36%), education (18%), women’s issues (18%), health care (17%), and terrorism/security (8%).

Korean Americans showed strong support for the Democratic candidates for Senate in:

  • New York (79% for Kirsten Gillibrand)
  • Massachusetts (77% for Elizabeth Warren)
  • New Jersey (74% for Robert Menendez)
  • Virginia (71% for Timothy Kaine), and
  • Maryland (57% for Benjamin Cardin). 

There was also strong support for the Democratic candidates for House of Representatives in New York (87%), Massachusetts (85%), New Jersey (71%), Virginia (71%), and Maryland (67%). However, in Georgia, 49% of Korean Americans voted for the Democratic candidate for House.

  • Voting barriers persisted.

Voters were asked if they encountered any voting problems. Below are the numbers of complaints:

337 were required to show identification, though 272 of them were not first-time voters and therefore wrongly required.

22 were required to prove their U.S. citizenship.

23 indicated that their names were missing or had errors in the list of voters at poll sites.

13 had to vote by provisional ballot.

30 voters inidcated that poll workers did not know the rules.

22 voter indicated that poll workers were rude or hostile.

43 voters complained that no interpreters or translations were available when needed.

8 were directed to the wrong poll site or voting machine/table within a site.

AALDEF’s multilingual exit polls reveal vital information about Asian American voting patterns that is often overlooked in mainstream voter surveys.  AALDEF has conducted exit polls of Asian American voters in every major election since 1988. In 2012, more than 100 community groups and organizations joined AALDEF to mobilize over 800 attorneys, law students, and volunteers to conduct the exit poll and to safeguard the voting rights of Asian Americans. A list of co-sponsoring organizations and law firms follows below. 

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), founded in 1974, is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans.  By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all. 

Co-Sponsoring Organizations and Law Firms

National Co-Sponsors

Alliance of South Asian American Labor

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance


Common Cause

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

Nat’l Coalition of Asian Pac. Amer. Comm. Dev.

Nat’l Korean Amer. Service & Education Consortium

National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance

North American South Asian Bar Association

OCA (formerly Organization of Chinese Americans)

South Asian Americans Leading Together

Local Co-Sponsors


APALA – Nevada

APIA Vote – Michigan

Asian American Society of Central Virginia

Boat People SOS Delaware Valley – PA


Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia

Center for Pan Asian Community Services – GA

Chhaya CDC - NY

Chinese-American Planning Council – NY

Chinese Community Federation of Atlanta

Chinese Progressive Association – MA

Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans of Virginia

East Coast Asian American Student Union

Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of New York

Hunter College/CUNY, Asian Am. Studies Prog – NY

Korean American Civic Empowerment of NY/NJ

Korean American Resource and Cultural Center - IL

MinKwon Center for Community Action – NY

NAAAP – New York

NAAAP – Philadelphia

NANAY – FL                          


NAPAWF – New York City

OCA: Georgia

OCA: Greater Houston

OCA: Greater Philadelphia

OCA: Greater Washington DC

OCA: Northern Virginia

OCA: South Florida

Pace University, ACE House – NY

Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition

Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation

Princeton Asian American Students Association – NJ


South Asian Lesbian & Gay Association of New York

U. California San Diego, Lambda Phi Epsilon

U. Maryland, College Park, Asian Amer. Studies Prog.

U. Massachusetts Boston, Asian Amer. Studies Prog.

Viet. Amer. Young Leaders Assoc. of New Orleans

Legal Co-Sponsors

Asian American Bar Association of Houston 

Asian American Bar Association of New York

Asian American Lawyers Assoc. of Massachusetts

Asian American Legal Advocacy Center of Georgia

Asian Bar Association of Las Vegas – NV

Asian Pacific American Bar Assoc. of Wash., DC

Asian Pacific American Bar Assoc. of Pennsylvania

Asian Pacific American Bar Assoc. of South Florida

Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of NJ    

Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center – DC

Boston University School of Law, APALSA – MA

Brooklyn Law School, APALSA – NY

Columbia Law School, APALSA – NY

Filipino Amer. Legal Defense & Educ. Fund, Inc. – NY

Georgetown Law, APALSA – DC

Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association 

Greater Boston Legal Services: Asian Outreach Unit

Harvard Law School, APALSA – MA

Korean Amer. Bar Assoc. of the Washington DC Area

Korean American Lawyers Association of Greater NY

Louisiana Asian Pacific American Bar Association 

Muslim American Bar Association of New York

New England School of Law, APALSA – MA

Pace Law School, Public Interest Law Center – NY

Rutgers School of Law-Newark, APALSA - NJ

South Asian Bar Association of New York

South Asian Bar Association of Washington, DC

Suffolk U. Law Rappaport Ctr. Law and Public Serv.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, APALSA

U. Penn. Law, Public Interest Office and APALSA

Law Firm Co-Sponsors

Alston & Bird LLP

Ballard Spahr LLP

Crowell & Moring LLP

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

Duane Morris LLP

Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP

Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP

Fowler White Boggs

Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP

Hogan Lovells

K&L Gates LLP

Kaye Scholer LLP

Kelley Drye & Warren LLP

McCarter & English LLP

Morrison & Foerster LLP

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

Paul Hastings LLP

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP

Pepper Hamilton LLP

Proskauer Rose LLP

Ropes & Gray LLP

Shearman & Sterling LLP

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP

Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP

Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP

White & Case LLP