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Why Asian Americans vote Democratic and the upcoming immigration debate

There's an interesting post at Dailykos by DesmoinesDem entitled, "Why Jews are Liberal and Norman Podheratz is wrong as usual." This made me wonder how his analysis would fit in the context of the Asian American community.

I'll address each of his arguments and offer my own thoughts on why Asian Americans are the only racial group to increase their Democratic vote in every Presidential election since 1980 and why the upcoming immigration debate will only hasten this move to the Democratic Party.

DesmoinesDem starts off his post by quoting the conservative writer Norman Podheratz's recent book:

All the other ethno-religious groups that, like the Jews, formed part of the coalition forged by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s have followed the rule that increasing prosperity generally leads to an increasing identification with the Republican Party. But not the Jews. As the late Jewish scholar Milton Himmelfarb said in the 1950s: "Jews earn like Episcopalians"—then the most prosperous minority group in America—"and vote like Puerto Ricans," who were then the poorest.

While I'm not aware of Asian Americans playing any significant role in the FDR coalition, after all, he did sign Executive Order 9066 which forced over 110,00 Japanese Americans into concentration camps, I do know that Asian Americans were part of the early civil rights struggle in America with such landmark legal victories as Yick Wo vs. Hopkins and U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark. Nor have we seen a gain in economic prosperity lead to increased Republican registration. (Jump to the end if you want to see the real numbers.)

DesmoinesDem breaks down his argument on why Jews are liberal into five points. (I don't make the case that Asian Americans are liberal, but I do try and show why they vote Democratic, which, for our purposes, are close enough.)

American Jews live mostly in large metropolitan areas. Big city residents tend to vote Democratic, and urban dwellers tend to be more tolerant of diversity. The largest cities have always had large Jewish populations, and during the past half-century or so, Jewish communities in small towns and cities have declined.

Check. Asian Americans are the most urbanized of any racial group with nearly three-quarters living in metropolitan areas with population greater than 2.5 million. Not only that, but Asian Americans are concentrated on the two coasts in such heavily blue states as Hawaii, California, New York, New Jersey and Washington and other key swing areas like Northern Virginia and the suburbs of Chicago, Minneapolis, Houston, Las Vegas and Detroit.

On average, a higher proportion of Jews have college or post-graduate degrees, and the Republican Party has steadily lost ground among the most highly-educated Americans.

Check again. Of all the racial groups, Asian Americans have the highest levels of college and graduate degrees. Forty-nine percent of Asian Americans, age 25 and older, have a bachelor's degree or higher level of education compared with 27 percent in this age category. Twenty percent have an advanced degree (e.g., Master's, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D.), as compared with 10 percent for all Americans.

(Interesting note, the Asian American community with the highest percentage of college graduates, Indians at 68%, is also the most Democratic, while the lowest, Vietnamese Americans at 24%, were the most Republican.)

Also, of these advanced degrees, the majority are in the fields of math and science and as the Republicans continue their war on science, it's hard to see the party appealing to these educated professionals. Who wants to join a party that attacks your livelihood and life's work?

Jewish religious traditions support "welcoming the stranger", providing for the poor, treating workers fairly, and other tenets of liberalism.

Check with an asterisk. First, we need to keep in mind that Asian Americans are the most secular of any racial group. Nearly 25% of Asian Americans report having no religion, as opposed to 15% of the general population. With that said, there is also a large percentage who are Buddhist or who belong to other Eastern religions who clearly espouse supporting the less fortunate. And let's not forget Gandhi was Asian.

Jewish Republicans have traditionally been social moderates (pro-choice, pro-environment), and the GOP has become hostile to those views since the Reagan Revolution. When my father became a college Republican in the late 1940s, the Republican Party was the party of civil rights, but that hasn't been true for at least 45 years.

Check. In a recent study out of UCLA, 83% of Asian Americans in California describe themselves as "environmentalists" compared to just 52% of all California voters. Another national study of over 5000 respondents showed that a majority of Asian American likely voters favor ending the war in Iraq and providing health care for all Americans Clearly, when you break down positions, the views held by Asian Americans are much closer to the Democratic platform.

On a related note, the religious right's takeover of the Republican Party scares Jews. Prominent Republicans support Christian prayers in public schools, reject the theory of evolution and deny the impact of human activity on climate change. Sure, conservative Christians support Israel, but that's mainly because they think it will hasten the Rapture.

On this point, the Republican party can actually make some gains. Yes, it's true that, as a whole, the Asian American community is less religious than the general population. But there are still large numbers of Asian Americans who do attend church regularly and are attending Evangelical and Protestant denominations. These people are susceptible to voting Republican. (This could apply to Latinos as well.) As an example, the religious right found great success in California during Prop 8 by targeting the Chinese and Korean churches.

To combat this, we must remind these Asian American Christians that these same folks who supporting discriminating against gays and lesbians and trying to take away a woman's right to make her own health-related choices, are simply using them as temporary window dressing and that these are the same people who would prevent them or their relatives from coming to this country or keep them breaking the glass ceiling at work.

And these are the issues, not the Republican's embrace of the religious right, that will keep Asian Americans out of the Republican party. It is these racist, xenophobic elements (you know, the birthers, deathers, tea baggers, Minutemen, etc.) who are now driving the Republican agenda, that will continue to drive Asian Americans towards the Democratic Party.

Immigration - According to the American Community Survey released by the Census in 2007, over 60% of Asians living in American are foreign-born. When Republican leaders continue to bash immigrants and try to deny them basic rights and services, it really drives Asian Americans to not only register to vote, but to vote against the Republican candidates and proposals. Based on the vitriol and hate spewing from the healthcare debate, you can count on the teabaggers to double up on the immigrant bashing. Notice that the loudest boo's against Obama's healthcare bill before Congress was the lie that it would pay for the care of undocumented immigrants. (I wonder if Jesus had a litmus test as to who should receive healthcare.)

Discrimination in the workforce - While Asian Americans are the most highly-educated racial group, we still are not represented in the highest offices and boardrooms. In a 2005 Gallup Poll, 31% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders reported facing some workplace discrimination. That's the highest of any group. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released a study that showed that, despite having the highest education level, they were less likely to be promoted to a managerial or executive position. Democrats are more likely to address these issues, let alone even acknowledge that they exist.

Racial-Profiling post 9/11 drove South Asians and Muslims accelerated the movement of these communities towards the Democrats. Again, as the Republican party stoked the anti-Muslim fears around the country, and it seems to be the only thing working for them, you can count on more of the same.

President Obama and the Democrats in Congress and around the country can have an impact on this direction and they are already showing some signs.

President Obama has appointed a record-number of Asian Americans to his Cabinet and nominated quit a few Asian Americans to federal judgeships including superb candidates Dolly Gee, Jacqueline Nguyen,Edward Chen and Denny Chin. This breaking of the glass ceiling resonates in the community. And as we head into the debate on immigration, the Democratic party can work on issues like family re-unification and H1-B visas that will also appeal to our community. Perfect openings that will continue this trend.

Desmoines Dem concludes:

If I were Podhoretz, before trying to make Jews into Republican voters, I'd try to make the Republican Party less beholden to social conservatives, less hostile to minority rights and less willing to ignore scientific research. But Podhoretz will become a Trotskyite again before any of that happens.

I think that's a good suggestion, but I don't see that happening. As a prelude into the future:

The Institute of Politics at Harvard University recently released data from an online survey of 2,525 18- to 24-year-olds. Among the survey’s more notable statistics are those concerning party affiliation among Asian-Americans: 47 percent identify themselves as Democratic, 15 percent Republican and 39 percent independent — making them more Democratic than any other ethnic group except African-Americans in the survey.

It seems like our community, known for being in the middle, is finally making a decision and it's going Blue.

Your rating: None Average: 2.4 (5 votes)

Anonymous Coward (not verified) on Sat, 10/03/2009 - 02:05

Wow!  Truly a pointless article.  I can totally see why Asians would want to associate themselves with the political party that interned them during WWII.  I'm sure they won't do it again.  JEESH!

RJY (not verified) on Sun, 10/04/2009 - 10:41

you should learn your american history, boy.

republican and democratic parties before 1964 did not have a clear standing of issues that are important today.

time over time, the parties have "switched" their own ideologies.


president lincoln was a republican and he supported the freedom of slaves and african americans. so, tell me why the gop doesn't take priority on civil rights now?



LeagueOfNewVoter (not verified) on Sat, 11/07/2009 - 20:37

Here is an objective survey that just concluded which showed that Asian voters do not align to either party.  Also in Virginia, we also have a chinese american candidate Sasha Gong who lost in this election. I often wondered why you didn't feature her like you did Mark Keam.   Liberal bias?


Poll Results Confirm Influence of Asian American Voters in the 2009 Virginia Gubernatorial Race

Release Date: November 4, 2009

Asian Voter Voted Overwhelmingly for Governor-Elect
Robert “Bob” McDonnell

  Fairfax County Virginia—The League of New Voters (LNV), which was founded in the Spring of 2009 in response to the needs of new voters who are naturalized U.S. citizens, conducted a month long nonpartisan telephone survey (Oct 1, 2009 to Nov 3, 2009) to assess Asian voters’ outlook on the Virginia gubernatorial and House of Delegate elections.

  A survey of 16,293 registered Asian American voters in twelve legislative districts in Northern Virginia, where the Asian population is as high as 21% (LD39) of general population, showed that an average of 58.5% voted for Bob McDonnell the governor-elect.  Furthermore, Asian American voter turn out was highest among Chinese and Vietnamese Americans on Election Day 2009, but it may take months before the Board of Elections releases an exact figure.  As a point of reference, in Election 2008, Asian Americans voter turnout in Virginia reached a historic high of 61% according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper (07/2009).
  Virginia’s Asian American votes made a key difference in this contest and reversed the trend of Election 2008 where Asian Americans voted by a big margin for Obama - according to the Asian American Legal Defense Fund.

  Voter education, strategic communications in native Asian languages and dedicated outreach efforts by candidate McDonnell were key factors for earning the Asian votes, and determining the outcome of this race.  The League of New Voters applaud Asian voters of Virginia for actively participating in this historic election and we look forward to working with the McDonnell Administration to ensure that Asian Americans interests in Virginia are accurately represented. 

  We commend the candidates for their efforts. The League of New Voters will continue to be a resource to office seekers so that they can more fully engage the growing Asian American communities in the political process.


curtis on Sat, 11/07/2009 - 23:58

Yes, we have a liberal bias and we're proud of it!

btw, we did cover Sasha Gong and her embarrassing stereotypes about Asian American voters

aficionado on Sun, 11/08/2009 - 00:28

League of New Voters-

I have a question: Why do you claim a 'world famous Chinese artist' part of the Chinese American Chapter? Wouldn't that make her not eligible to vote as an American? You do know that you have to be an American to vote in American politics, no? Or perhaps you have limited knowledge of American politics? If that is true. I forgive you. 

Anyways, your public opinion survey does not necessary reflect the entire population of Asian Americans in the US. You only did a survey of the Asian race in Virginia. in addition, the two main variables you dutifully measured were Chinese and Vietnamese voters. Both Chinese and Vietnamese voter behaviors are different from each other, leading you to believe that Asian voters do not align with a particular party. What is your validity? Do you even know what the Asian Utility Heuristic is? Perhaps you should read "Asian American Politics" by Aoki and Takeda or you should take a look at African American politics to gain some perspectives. 

And yes, we are bias because this is a progressive website. We're just doing what is right for the community as a whole. 

Jimmy Le (not verified) on Fri, 11/13/2009 - 13:31

Wow, talk about arrogance on this site. I just stumbled onto this but very interesting viewpoints from both sides. 

I think if you did any research on the world famous chinese singer you referenced, you would quickly learn that and has lived in the USA for 20years as an AMCIT.


aficionado on Fri, 11/13/2009 - 13:47

Thank you for your feedback, Jimmy.

I have done research. However, I have not really found an English article about this world famous Chinese singer. I have found other females with her name though. 

My main point isn't really about her. My main point is that the website is ambiguous on the word Chinese. Chinese what? ethnicity or nationality? 

Where could I find an article about her? All of her background, etc.

Thank you very much

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