Who is winning the Asian American money race?

Update 04/22/2019: For more information about how Sono did this analysis please see this post.


Analysis of first quarter FEC filings reveal that Cory Booker has raised the most amount of money from Asian donors.


As 2020 draws closer, Asian American voters will be one of the key constituencies that a crowded field of Democratic candidates will compete for. However, due to the challenges associated with polling Asian Americans, we know relatively little about which Democratic candidate they might support. Below I briefly outline some of the candidates that we might expect Asian Americans to support in the upcoming primary elections.

  • Kamala Harris: Our own survey data from 2018 suggests that she has support from Asian Americans and especially Indian Americans. However, a sizable portion of the Asian American population have not made up their minds, which may contribute to a lack of general awareness of her Indian background.
  • Andrew Yang: As the other Asian American candidate in the running, Yang’s campaign is on a significantly smaller scale relative to Harris, but he has managed to raise large amounts of money and Asian voters will likely be an important source of support if he is to win the primary.
  • Tulsi Gabbard: Finally, Tulsi Gabbard could also garner significant support from Asian voters and in particular Indian voters, in part because her Hindu background (she became the first Hindu member of Congress).

While we wait for the polling data to roll in, I took a closer look at another form of political participation that allows insight into Asian Americans, campaign contributions. Following the release of the April quarterly FEC filings there has been a flurry of stories discussing who leads the fundraising race among Democrats vying for the Democratic nomination in 2020.1https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2020-fundraising/, https://www.politico.com/2020-election/president/democratic-primary/candidates/fundraising-and-campaign-finance-tracker/, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/us/politics/campaign-finance-2020-fundraising.html, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/us/politics/democrats-2020-fundraising.html These filings offer an early look at the overall levels of enthusiasm for each candidate, but we can also leverage this data to look at specific donor groups. To do this, I analyzed the April 2019 Quarterly FEC filings for the following candidates (Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, Kirsten Gillibrand, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Julian Castro, John Delaney).

What did I find?

Asian donors made 4,057 contributions totaling $1,788,850 dollars to the 14 major Democratic Presidential candidates. Here are some takeaways:

Despite the fact that there are two Asian American candidates competing for the nomination, Cory Booker has raised the most money from Asian donors so far with Tulsi Gabbard and Kamala Harris close behind. The large amounts raised by Booker are somewhat surprising given the presence of Harris and Yang, though NJ has a large Asian American population. Notably, while Asian contributions from California represent the largest share of any state for most candidates, Booker has raised the bulk of his Asian contributions from New Jersey and neighboring New York (See table below).

Looking closer at the composition of each candidate’s donor network, Gabbard and Yang both stand out due to the large proportion of Asian contributions (44% and 35% respectively) in their individual contributions. Looking geographically, we can see that more than 1/3 (34%) of all Asian contributions have come from California. Finally, when combined with New York and New Jersey, donors in these three states account for more than 60% of the contributions Asians made during this time period.

Top 3 States by Share of Asian Contributions

Candidate State Asian Total Share of Asian Contributions
Cory Booker NJ $152,294.00 39%
Cory Booker NY $89,575.00 23%
Cory Booker CA $80,321.00 20%
Tulsi Gabbard CA $145,163.00 37%
Tulsi Gabbard TX $60,240.00 15%
Tulsi Gabbard NJ $41,041.00 11%
Kamala Harris CA $192,734.00 60%
Kamala Harris NY $47,400.00 15%
Kamala Harris DC $19,258.00 6%
Andrew Yang CA $47,879.00 40%
Andrew Yang NY $19,412.00 16%
Andrew Yang IL $8,964.00 8%

Top Takeaways

  1. In terms of total dollars, more than 60% of Asian contributions went to three candidates, Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, and Kamala Harris.
  2. Tulsi Gabbard has relied heavily on Asian donors, with Asian donors accounting for more than 44% of the individual contributions she has raised this quarter.
  3. Similarly, more than 35% of the money Andrew Yang has raised from individual donations have come from Asian donors.
  4. Donors in California, New York, and New Jersey make up the vast majority of Asian contributions.

How I did my research:

I downloaded each of the April Quarterly 2019 filings for the 14 major Democratic Candidates and subset them to only look at individual-level contributions. Then, I estimated the race/ethnicity of each donor using an ethnic-surname analysis technique (post will be updated with link to methods post shortly).


Sono Shah is a  Ph.D. Candidate at UC Riverside and researcher at AAPI Data and the Center for Social Innovation.