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How Asian-Americans Became Democrats

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Honda_Endorsement

Pretty remarkable shift among Asian-American voting patterns.

If post-1965 immigrants did indeed move the Asian American community to the right, the group’s leftward shift since 1992 is all the more remarkable. Although Bill Clinton won only 31 percent of the Asian American vote in 1992 (or 36 percent of the two-party vote if we exclude Ross Perot), Al Gore won 55 percent in 2000, followed by John Kerry with 56 percent in 2004, and Obama with 62 percent and 73 percent in 2008 and 2012, respectively. In just two decades, the Democratic Party’s share of the Asian American presidential vote more than doubled. Even more remarkably, Obama won every major national origin group of Asian Americans in 2012, including Vietnamese Americans, who have traditionally leaned Republican.

Why has this happened? Largely because the Republican Party has gone totally insane:

Since then, the leftward shift in the Asian American vote has also reflected “push factors” from the Republican side. Congressional Republicans have outdone one another in anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposals and, despite efforts by the Bush administration, consistently scuttled efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform. To be sure, immigration has never been a top issue for Asian American voters; the economy, education, and health care usually lead as the top three issues in surveys. Still, immigration holds a symbolic place among Asian American voters. A 2014 AAPI Data survey of Asian American registered voters found that 41 percent would consider switching their support away from a candidate who expresses strong anti-immigrant views. Immigration thus matters to Asian American voters less as a top policy priority than as an indicator of whether candidates and parties respect immigrants and welcome them.

Another development pushing Asian Americans away from the GOP has been the rise of Christian conservatism in the Republican Party. The 2012 Pew survey on Asian Americans indicated that the strongest level of Democratic Party support comes from Hindus and those who claim no religious affiliation (these groups make up a significant share of Indian Americans and Chinese Americans, respectively). The same Pew survey did not contain a sufficient number of Muslim respondents, estimated to be about 4 percent of the Asian American population, to produce reliable estimates of their party preference. However, the group’s 2011 survey of Muslim Americans also indicated very strong support for the Democratic Party. Finally, a 2016 AAPI Data survey of Asian American registered voters indicated that 43 percent would consider switching their support away from a candidate who expresses strongly anti-Muslim views.

Asian-Americans also supported social programs and government spending, making Democratic politics more appealing to them. But I prefer the racial essentializing of people like David Brooks.

In 1992, writing in The Washington Post, Stanley Karnow had claimed that Asian immigrants were more likely to identify as Republican because they valued individual responsibility and free enterprise and many of them had fled communist countries. In 2012, New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed that Asian Americans voted Democratic because they came from cultures that do not put a high value on individualism and instead approve government intervention. If cultural values can be used to explain both voting Republican and voting Democratic, they may not explain either one very well. The actions of parties and political leaders over the past two decades provide a far better explanation for the politics of Asian Americans today than do the disparate cultural traditions that immigrants have brought with them.

It’s so hard when this essentializing changes course. I get whiplash. But then those Asians are so inscrutable. All we can know is that it must be some racial characteristic!

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