Lessons of the Asian-American Tilt

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

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.