Why Are Asian Americans Increasingly Voting for Democrats?

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Between 2008 and 2012, Asians overtook Latinos as the largest immigrant group per year. (Pew Research Center)

During the 2012 election cycle, campaigns and pundits paid a lot of attention to the Latino vote and the decisive role it could (and did) play in an Obama victory. There focused much less on Asian Americans. But between 2008 and 2012, Asians surpassed Latinos as the most quickly growing immigrant group, and, like Latinos, they voted for Obama by a margin of about three to one.

Some columnists have pointed out that Asian Americans should have been easy for the Republican Party to woo. Writing for Slate, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner argues that, though Asian Americans are generally satisfied with the direction in which the country is moving and are generally in favor gay marriage and reproductive rights, other issues could saw them in a more conservative direction.

“[O]ne might expect these liberal leanings to count for less than the desire of the nation’s highest-income, best-educated, and most conventionally familial demographic group for lower taxes, fiscal austerity, family values, and an end to affirmative action, which benefits blacks and Hispanics at the expense of Asians. And although most Asian Americans are first- or second-generation Americans, they are not the targets of Republican hostility to immigrants; the target is illegal Mexican immigrants, and from elsewhere in Central America.”

In a blog post for The Monkey Cage and an opinion piece for the LA Times, UC Riverside Political Science Professor S. Karthick Ramakrishnan points out that Asian Americans have gradually shifted to support the Democratic Party over the last two decades. In 1992, 31 percent of Asian Americans voted for the Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton. In 2008, 62 percent voted for Obama, and by 2012, that figure was up to 73 percent. Posner’s piece and others like it, he said, do not take the causes of that shift into account.

Over the last 20 years, Asian Americans have shifted to support Democrats by a significant margin. (National Election Pool Data, via The Monkey Cage)

Connecticut State Representative William Tong, D-Stamford, was the only Asian-American to run for the U.S. Senate this election season from the continental U.S. He dropped out of the primary in May, and the Connecticut Senate seat went to Chris Murphy. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

In the LA Timespiece (co-authored by UC Berkeley Professor Taeku Lee), Ramakrishnan and Lee argue that over the last two decades the Democrats have attracted Asian voters while the Republicans have pushed them away. They write:

“Since 2000, the Republican Party has moved more sharply to the right than the Democratic Party has to the left, especially on issues that resonate with Asian Americans. For example, Republicans in Congress escalated their heated rhetoric on immigration and, despite the Bush administration’s efforts, consistently scuttled efforts toward comprehensive immigration reform. “

Ramakrishnan and Lee go on to argue that, more recently, Republicans have lowered their favorability among Asian Americans as a result of their attempts to appease the more conservative Tea Party faction of the party, and their emphasis on Christian values. That could account for the uptick in Asian American support for President Obama between 2008 and 2012.

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