The Future of the Asian-American Vote

Asians are one of the most ignored constituencies in American politics. When most politicians think about the Asian vote, they don’t.

Yet the Asian-American population is increasing, both in absolute terms and relative ones. By 2050, the Census estimates that Asians will compose 7.8% of the American population. Although their voting rates will still fall far short of this, the population is becoming more influential. Predicting their future voting path therefore has some utility.

In previous posts, this blogger has argued that the Latino vote will likely trend Republican, as Latinos follow the path of previous immigrants and become more assimilated.

Will the same happen for Asian-Americans?

Probably not:

As the graph above shows, the Asian vote has steadily moved Democratic, in quite a significant manner. In 1992 Republican President George H.W. Bush won 55% of the Asian vote while losing the popular vote. 12 years later, his son won only 41% of Asians, despite winning the popular vote.

The trend also does not look bright for the Republican Party. Asian-Americans who have been born in the United States are, if anything, more Democratic than those who immigrated into the country (to be fair, the latter group dominates the Asian population and will continue to do so unless immigration is drastically curtailed).

Take, for instance, the Vietnamese-American population – strong supporters of the Republican Party. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, after conducting an extensive exit poll of Asians (perhaps the only detailed exit poll of the group in the country), found that:

Vietnamese American voters gave McCain the strongest support of all Asian ethnic groups at 67%. However, further analysis of Vietnamese American voters revealed 69% of those born in the U.S. and 60% of those 18-29 years old voted for Obama. Among Vietnamese American respondents, 15% were born in the U.S. and 25% were between the ages of 18 and 29.

The analysis goes on to conclude that:

AALDEF’s exit poll data shows that younger, U.S.-born, more recently naturalized, and English proficient Asian American citizens voted for Barack Obama for President by wide margins. Older, foreign-born citizens with limited English proficiency and who had been naturalized more than ten years ago voted in greater proportions for McCain.

There are several explanations for why this is happening. One quite plausible argument is that immigration has shifted the Asian-American population from Orange County anti-communists to Silicon Valley liberals.

Another revealing insight can be gained by comparing Asians to another very Democratic group: Jews. In many ways the two have a startling amount in common. Both groups are highly educated; both are primarily located in urban metropolitan areas; both have achieved substantial success in American society; and both have encountered quite similar types of discrimination. Even the stereotypes are similar.

Given these similarities, it is very conceivable that Asians could end up voting like Jews – one of the most liberal-minded groups in the nation.

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12 Responses to The Future of the Asian-American Vote

  1. What policies should the GOP adopt/emphasize to attract more Asian voters?

    • DMR says:

      Most Indian Americans like me are fairly centrist economically…most finding both the right’s free markets and left’s social justice agendas interesting in small amounts. What really freaks us out is the GOP’s social agenda, which is extremely white-centric and overwhelmingly Christian. Even family members of mine who may have quoted Ayn Rand 10 years ago are steadfastly Democrat these days after the GOP started publicly bashing immigrants, muslims, etc.

    • Joe says:

      One, they could actually try to attract voters. Neither democrats nor republicans even made an effort at all. Over 50% of Asian voters surveyed at exit polls stated they weren’t contacted at all by either party.
      Secondly, the GOP could stand to be a little less racist. Remember the macaca slur? Remember all those anti-Chinese and Asian-fearmongering commercials by Republican candidates? Asians have zero incentive to vote GOP.

  2. EC says:

    There are important differences between Asians and Jews. Of all ethnic/religious groups, no group has suffered more oppression throughout history than Jews. As such, liberalism (based on a belief in human rights) is fundamentally embedded in the Jewish tradition. It explains why Jews, even after having assimilated into US society and having reached the highest echelons of success, remain the second most Democratic ethnoreligious demographic in the country (after blacks).

    Asians, on the other hand, have no such history of oppression. As an Asian-American myself, I can vouch for the fact that many Asian-Americans tend to have a strong streak of economic conservatism (probably due to their economic success). The immigrant population constitutes a disproportionate percentage of the Asian-American population, and my guess is that the Democratic margins among Asian-Americans are provided by these immigrants, who do not feel fully assimilated into American society and therefore vote Democratic by default (as Democrats have traditionally represented those at the margins of American society). However, given Asian-Americans’ economically conservative streak, it is entirely possible that 3rd-generation Asian-Americans will be evenly divided in their voting patterns, if not Republican-leaning.

    • inoljt says:

      Your theory sounds good, but the exit polls I’ve seen don’t bear it out. From what I’ve seen, Asian-Americans born in the United States are actually more Democratic than those who immigrated to America. AALDEF shows that those Asians born in the United States gave 87% of the vote to Obama, versus 73% for naturalized citizens. I’ve seen other polls where the break-down is 80% of U.S.-born Asians for Obama, 60% of naturalized citizens for Obama.

      • EC says:

        There is an external variable at play here: age. Younger voters in general were far more likely to vote for Obama than older voters. The US-born Asian-American population is significantly younger on average than the immigrant Asian-American population, and that may explain the higher support for Obama among US-born Asian-Americans. I would be interested to see how US-born Asian-American voting habits change as this demographic becomes middle-aged.

      • inoljt says:

        Interesting, and a good point.

        But as long as current immigration trends continue, the Asian population will always be extremely immigrant-heavy (without immigration, Asians actually decrease as a percentage of the population). That implies that U.S.-born Asians will skew on the young side for a very long time.

    • Brown hate is rampant says:

      Asian American, especially Indian Americans face severe discrimination and hatred–including police harrassment, physical attack, denial of basic child care, and emotional abuse. Look at class action suits like Abercrombie and U of Michigan.

      • EC says:

        I am Indian-American myself. Having grown up in ~90% white suburbs, I have almost never experienced any overt racism, and in high school I experienced NO overt racism. I can pretty safely say that the current group of Asian-Americans has never experienced anything even close to what the Jews experienced in terms of discrimination, even in America. Discrimination against Asian-Americans also pales in comparison to the discrimination that European immigrants faced in the 19th century and early 20th century. Asian immigrants are in general far more integrated into mainstream American society than the European immigrants of a century ago were in their time, with large numbers of Asian immigrants (probably a majority) living seamlessly in heavily white suburbs.

        As for police issues, Asian-Americans actually are often even more pro-police than whites are in big cities. This issue actually came up in the 2005 (?) mayoral race in Los Angeles between Hahn and Villaraigosa, in which Asian-Americans supported Hahn by a bigger margin than did whites due to Hahn’s pro-LAPD views.

  3. Brett Heffner says:

    According to the most recent American Community Survey, there are nine states where the Asian percentage exceeds 5%. Of these, only in California and Hawaii does it exceed 10% and only Nevada and Virginia are swing states. Of the seven non-swing states of this group, all are blue except Alaska. It would be interesting to see how well Obama did among Asian voters in Nevada and Virginia.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_Asian_American_population

    • inoljt says:

      Yes; the states where Asians are most heavily concentrated tend to be the least competitive, which is why presidential candidates pay little attention to the vote.

      I would be interested in seeing the Asian vote in Nevada and Virginia myself.

      • gen f says:

        Data is in on Asian Americans in Nevada! Asian Americans did turn out in 2010 and helped swing the vote to Harry Reid. Although the articles does not provide that exact number, according to the LA Times, Asians (and African Americans) voted for Reid in higher proportions than Latinos. While Reid lost the white vote, he won decisively with Latinos, Asians, African Americans and labor. http://articles.latimes.com/print/2010/nov/04/nation/la-na-reid-angle-20101104-25
        Unpublished polling found a similar trend in California where Asian Americans trended more Democratic across the state in 2010.
        The idea that Asian Americans have no history of oppression is generally wrong. Of there is the Chinese Exclusion act, etc. But even more recent experience shapes experience. While I think the personal experience of some individuals (such as the original writer) may suggest otherwise, the general experience is of a continued experience of ‘outsider status.’ Hence, when Rush Limbaugh ridiculed Hu Jintao’s accent there was an out pouring of anger by middle class Chinese Americans.
        Perhaps more important than race, the data also suggests that most Asian American’s favor public support for education, health care, and government services even if it means higher taxes. You don’t see many Asians at Tea Party events.

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