Political Animal


February 26, 2013 4:13 PM Lessons of the Asian-American Tilt

By Ed Kilgore

Although it still gets vastly less attention than the subject of Latino Americans, the question of Asian-American voter trends is gradually coming to the fore, in part because of this demographic’s rapidly growing size, and in part because its startlingly large and relatively recent pro-Democratic leanings. The latest report on the phenomenon is from Lloyd Green at the Daily Beast.

The Republican Party’s problems with Latino voters are well documented, but its poor performance with Asian-Americans should be giving the party even greater pause. By and large, Asian-Americans are affluent, well educated, and disproportionately absent from the dreaded 47 percent. Moreover, they once had a history of voting Republican. In 1992, Asian-Americans favored George H. W. Bush over Bill Clinton, and four years later they went for Bob Dole….
In 2008, Asian-Americans gave 62 percent of their vote to Barack Obama. Last November that number jumped to 73 percent even as the president’s margin of victory in the popular vote was cut in half.

As Green notes, the surge in Asian-Americans’ Democratic voting preferences cannot easily be attributed to the kind of direct hostility from Republicans perceived by many Latinos:

It is not for lack of trying that Republicans are being rebuffed by this fast-growing, though still small, demographic. Republicans in Louisiana and South Carolina nominated Indian Americans to be their party’s respective gubernatorial nominees, and after both candidates won they were nationally showcased. At the cabinet level, add Elaine Chao, who served for eight years as W’s Labor secretary and is the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
From a policy perspective, the Republicans have been more welcoming to Asians than to other immigrants. During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney supported increased immigration by skilled workers (read: Asians), despite demanding “self-deportation” for nondocumented aliens (read: Latinos). Republican rising star Marco Rubio, together with Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Chris Coons and Republican Orrin Hatch, recently sponsored legislation to increase the number of H1-B visas granted to educated and skilled employees. Asian immigrants hold more than two in five of the H1-B high-skill visas presently issued.

Moreover, because of their relative affluence, Asian-Americans are significantly less reliant than Americans generally on public-sector activism. They are, in fact, sometimes negatively affected by affirmative action policies in higher education.

In other words, there are few excuses Republicans can make for their rapidly reduced appeal to Asian-Americans: it clearly reflects a rejection of contemporary conservative ideology. Green notes that the GOP’s reputation for mistrusting science plays especially poorly among Asian-Americans; others have observed that the identification of the Democratic Party with the technology sector during the Clinton administration. Moreover, non-Christian Asians (the plurality among all major groups except for Filipinos and Koreans) are not fond of the conspicuous role of the Christian Right in GOP politics. In general, you can say that even if pols like Paul Broun, Jr., and Louie Gohmert fit right in with their constituencies, they aren’t doing their party any favors with Asian-Americans.

Presumably if Republicans begin to focus on their Asian-American problem they will market poster people like Haley and Jindal even more aggressively, though it’s worth remembering that Indian-Americans are the most pro-Democratic of all Asian-American voter groups (and also the least Christian—an estimated 18% are Christian, as opposed to 51% that are Hindu—which makes the Catholic Jindal and Methodist Haley significantly less representative).

So all in all, it’s going to take more than “role models” and a lack of overt discrimination to produce GOP inroads into this constituency they once counted as their own.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ronald on February 26, 2013 4:23 PM:

    Rebranding by trying to put a different color wrapper on the package without changing the contents is about as much as the Republican's have been able to manage for all their vaunted 'rebranding efforts' lately.
    How many millions of dollars have been spent by very rich people on the Right in pursuit of that? Tens? Hundreds of millions (if you count the last election then probably yes).

    Shit is shit.

  • c u n d gulag on February 26, 2013 4:34 PM:

    GOP POV:
    The people with a yellow hue, and slanted eyes, are natural Republicans!
    They work hard.
    They are family oriented.
    They are community oriented.
    They're good as saving money.
    They live to a ripe old age.
    Ok, they're smart, and believe in science, but we can 'propaganda' that out of the little yellow folks.

    All we need to do, is convert these little yellow Heathens to Christianity, and they will vote for us forever!!!

    GOP! GOP!! GOP!!!

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 26, 2013 4:37 PM:

    I don't think the GOTea's inability to appeal to this (Asian-American) or that (Latino) demographic group of modern Americans is the problem, per se. In general, the GOTea has proven itself to be unappealing and offensive to everybody but angry old white folks... There. I said it.

    Asian Americans are but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of people who can't get behind the bigoted GOTea message.

  • Napoleon on February 26, 2013 4:56 PM:


    I think you missed another significant reason, that, Asians may realize they are not targeted or disadvantaged by the Republican platform (well, any more then anyone else outside the top 1%) but the clear hate and irrationality of the Republican base torwards other minorities have made them realize they could be next, and they are closing ranks against a group that may turn on them next.

    For as much as I hate Grover Norquist I saw a quote from him in the last year or two where he picked up on this as a real danger to the Republicans with non-targeted, minority groups (I have a feeling the fact his wife is Muslim gives him better antenna for this sort of thing).

  • emjayay on February 26, 2013 5:08 PM:

    Anecdote: I live in southern totally nonhip Brooklyn in what has become to a major extent an Asian American neighborhood (among other immigrant groups and previous Italians and people like me.) About half the cars on the street are silver minivans. Asian Americans are of course very involved in small businesses etc. and I assumed they were mostly Republican.

    In the last election, an Asian (probably Chinese) American dad was voting right next to me. There aren't of course voting booths anymore, just little cheap flimsy stands with a bit of cardboard masking around them. He had his about 9 year old daughter with him, showing her how the democratic process works. Very Asian of him. (Sorry, I find this sort of stuff very moving.)I glanced at his ballot. Straight Democratic, just like mine.

    I haven't seen any research into what Asian Americans are really thinking, just sort of supposition.

    One thing is for sure, given the money driven politics of our country, Asian Americans are gonna be extremely powerful in the future. Oh, I'm not mainly talking about the money making orientation of Chinese culture (a fact) but the education oriented factor. Academic public high schools (Lowell in SF, Stuyvesant in NYC) and places like UC Berkeley have been very Asian for decades.

  • gregor on February 26, 2013 5:14 PM:

    I don't know whether I count as an Asian American, being as I am from the subcontinent, but after naturalization in 1985, we have never voted for a Republican for any office anywhere. During the last election I used to abruptly end every call from Democratic campaigns by telling them to not waste their time on our household.

    Revelations during the Watergate hearings, Reagan's pandering to the racists in the south, their constant war on labor unions, women and other minorities (I still remember that the worst GHW could say about David Duke was that he was a 'charlatan'), Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, the Florida fiasco, the Iraq war, torture, Tom Delay, deep seated hatred of Obama, the concerted efforts to disenfranchise voters, transvaginal ultra sound, opposition to VAWA - all these and so many other travesties confirm and reconfirm my opinion about the GOP year after year, election after election.

  • Citizen Alan on February 26, 2013 5:26 PM:

    There was a commenter at Balloon Juice, I think, whose name escapes me but who had the best explanation of this that I have seen. Generally, the Asian-American community is more pro-education than any other demographic segment of American society. As the commenter put it, "they value those pieces of paper like nobody's business." So you don't think they noticed that being editor of the Harvard Law Review used to be considered a prestigious honor ... until a non-white put it on his resume, at which point it was disparaged as the result of racial bias? You don't think they noticed that Sonia Sotomayor graduated at or near the top of her law school class ... and was then accused of being an affirmative action appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court? You don't think they noticed that an entire lifetime of hard work and academic achievement is suddenly worthless if you're not a White Male Republican? The only reason Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley are even tolerated among the GOP is that, regardless of skin tone, they are reactionary, Christianist Mammon-worshipers who mindlessly parrot the GOP line. If either of them ever showed a spark of human decency, the Republican Lysenkos would turn on them both in a heartbeat.

  • Walt French on February 26, 2013 5:49 PM:

    Let me reinforce @Citizen Alan's remarks.

    But here in California, where Asians are an especially prominent minority, education isn't about pieces of paper on the wall. It's about the chance to live the American Dream, to lift oneself by the bootstraps. Every person I know of Asian descent has worked hard for educational success, and knows it's not something you can do by yourself.

    Coincidentally, CA politics have focused for years around Republican efforts to slash the formerly world-reknowned UC system, dozens of state colleges and state aid to local districts. With Jerry Brown promoting an initiative to break thru Republicans' filibuster on spending on schools, the issue was front and center.

    Another likely issue that particularly disgusted Asian-American citizens this year was the drumbeat by Republicans all around the country, to prevent the elderly, students and minorities from voting. Even if not directed specifically at Asians, it was obviously going to put disproportionate burdens on lower-income and non-driving people in Chinatowns, who are key to sub-cultures. The Republican efforts may not have been perceived as anti-Asian per se, but should've been seen as anti-democracy.

  • byomtov on February 26, 2013 7:02 PM:

    Let's see. Ethnic and religious minority. Strong emphasis on education and achievement. Generally very successful. Votes Democratic.

    Seems like I've heard that story somewhere else.

  • TomParmenter on February 26, 2013 7:13 PM:

    On the Elaine Chao front, your Kentucky liberals haven't been taken in, tweeting like mad (using the word advisedly) that she has exported Kentucky jobs to China. N.B. Ms. Chao is from Taiwan.


  • Dave Swanner on February 26, 2013 7:53 PM:

    Nikki Haley isn't a poster child for Republican acceptance of minorities. She's a reactionary Tea Party woman, who can match Michelle Bachman for crazy. She was among the first to refuse the Medicaid extension. They're introducing a law in South Carolina to make it a felony to implement ObamaCare. Yeah, I know, South Carolina legislators have never heard of Federalism.

    I live in South Carolina, and she's a straight up Tea Party candidate. Has refused Federal money for education, refused Federal money for Medicaid and refused Federal money for anything that are helpful to the citizens of the State. We're talking money with no strings attached to it. She just doesn't want anything to do with Obama.

    We're in one of the poorest states, with the worst education (although, fortunately there are some good schools, my daughters are in an academic charter school, but even the charter initiatives are an effort to take away from the public school systems) in the country. We're 47th in education. Thank God for Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.

  • mfw13 on February 26, 2013 8:44 PM:

    Quite simply, the reason Asian-Americans are voting overwhelmingly for Democrats is because they think the GOP is nuts.

    Asian-Americans, in general, are hard-working, intelligent, not particularly religious, reality-based people. And they think the GOP is filled with loonies....

  • Aidian on February 26, 2013 9:12 PM:

    Republican rising star Marco Rubio, together with Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Chris Coons and Republican Orrin Hatch, recently sponsored legislation to increase the number of H1-B visas granted to educated and skilled employees. Asian immigrants hold more than two in five of the H1-B high-skill visas presently issued.

    It's amazing that the one thing that we can get bipartisan agreement about is the one thing that will help big companies make more money at the expense of the American worker.

    Using immigrant labor to undercut and replace native workers, not just for Walmart anymore -- now it can happen at IBM, too! (Actually, already is).

    Thanks for sticking up for the little guy, Democrats...very progressive of you. This is why I'll be voting Tyler Durden in 2014. And probably in 2016.

  • Hyde on February 26, 2013 10:33 PM:

    The extent of the Asian identification with Democrats surprises me, since I hadn't realized it was so widespread -- and I had the clearly mistaken sense that Indian-Americans actually had a slight Republican tilt, possibly because they are so well-represented in the high-paying field of medicine.

    Things might get even worse for the GOP in the next few decades, as the influence of first-generation Vietnamese immigrants begins to wane (we've seen that happening among Cubans in just the last few election cycles).

    Those of us who have read our What's the Matter with Kansas? know all about culture triumphing over economic interest when it comes to why working class whites have abandoned Democrats, but the Asian vote for Democrats (like the Jewish vote) is an example of the process working the other way. The intense GOP identification with far-right Christianity, the Republican contempt for education and science, the mention of Obama's "exotic" upbringing in Indonesia and Hawaii...I can imagine there are plenty of Asians who might otherwise be willing to listen to the Republican economic message who nonetheless say to themselves, "I can't vote for any party that takes Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann seriously."

    As far as marketing Haley and Jindal as role models go, it would help if both weren't terrible governors; and frankly, it would also help if they, like Barack Obama, felt they could use their real, very ethnic first names and not be punished for it by their constituencies.

  • Barbara on February 27, 2013 9:58 AM:

    If Haley and Jindal had decided to remain Hindu or Sikh, they would have been much more likely to succeed as Democrats than as Republicans. If that isn't lost on me, it certainly isn't lost on Asian-Americans, especially Indians and Sikhs. "Sure, we love you, so long as you convert to Christianity" is not a message of acceptance but quite the opposite.

  • Samuel Knight on February 27, 2013 10:13 AM:

    BTW - there's another simple demographic reason for the change away from the GOP to the Dems. A huge perecntage of Asian-Americans used to be former South Vietnamese - who voted solidly GOP. Their children don't quite see things the same way - just like the Cuban kids in Florida.

  • bluestatedon on February 27, 2013 11:10 AM:

    On one hand, we have a large number of Americans from Asian cultures who collectively place such a great value on education and science that they comprise a significant percentage of the students in university-level undergraduate and graduate programs in science and engineering across the country. This is in addition to the large numbers of foreign Asian students studying at schools like the University of Michigan here in Ann Arbor, some of whom will inevitably become American citizens.

    On the other hand, we have an essentially theocratic political party that is dominated at every level of governance by ignorant boobs who believe that getting a college degree makes you a snob, that women's bodies can repel legitimate rapist sperm, that the Bible is the literal word of God, that evolution is bunk because we ain't come from no damn monkeys, that climate change is a conspiracy by liberal scientists to get funding, and that Adam and Eve had vegetarian dinosaurs for neighbors in the Garden of Eden 5,000 years ago.

    Considering all that, the real amazing fact is that Republicans managed to get 27% of the Asian vote.