Why Asian Americans Are So Democratic—In Three Charts

Apropos of this morning’s post on the Democratic Party’s overwhelming strength with Asian Americans, it’s worth looking at why Asians are so supportive of Democrats in general, and President Obama in particular.

One answer is the anti-immigrant politics of the Republican Party. It’s not that Asians are liberal as much as it is that—as a largely foreign-born community—they’re turned off by the GOP’s overt hostility toward immigration. But a poll taken before the election complicates that picture. In the survey, conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, only 7 percent of respondents saw Mitt Romney as hostile toward Asian Americans. Romney used anti-immigrant rhetoric, but it didn’t create an impression of hostility toward the Asian American community writ large. And even if it did, rhetoric alone isn’t enough to explain Obama’s wide advantage with Asian Americans

For that, you have to look to ideology. In its 2012 survey on the beliefs and views of Asian Americans, the Pew Research Center found that—like other nonwhite groups—Asian Americans are pretty liberal. Here are a few charts I made using Pew’s data:

1) The large plurality of Asian Americans are liberal or moderate, with similar proportions among the six major groups polled by Pew. Filipinos stand as an exception—Most are moderate, but there are more conservatives than liberals.

2) Accordingly, they also hold Democratic-leaning views on the size and role of government. Here, Japanese and Indian Americans are the outliers, with lower support for bigger government than other Asian American groups.

3) But Asian Americans are a little more socially conservative on homosexuality—and a little more liberal on abortion—than the general public. Though there’s a sharp divide between different groups. It’s not shown in the chart, but there’s a large divide between native and foreign-born Asian Americans: 76 percent of native-born Asians are accepting of homosexuality (versus 46 percent of foreign born) and 66 percent think abortion should be legal (versus 51 percent of foreign born).

It’s worth noting the other significant differences between native and foreign born Asian Americans on each of these questions. Native-born Asian Americans are more likely to identify as conservative (26 percent versus 23 percent for foreign-born Asian Americans) and less likely to support bigger government (48 percent versus 57 percent).

On its face, this is a sign that mainstream integration—and a remove from the immigrant experience—makes liberal views less likely. Then again, younger (and presumably mostly native-born) Asian Americans are substantially more liberal and pro-government than their older counterparts, as well as more tolerant of homosexuality, and more supportive of abortion rights. Indeed, according to AADLF presidential exit poll, only 10 percent of Asian Americans aged 18 to 29 voted for Mitt Romney. Eighty-six percent supported Barack Obama.

Is this a product of the GOP’s regressive stance on social issues, and if so, would a less socially conservative Republican Party be more palatable to younger Asians? If so, there’s hope for some Republicans in some areas of the country. Of course, youth is the time when political views harden. It’s possible that the Asian Americans youth who voted for Obama (or against George W. Bush in 2004) will continue to do so for the rest of their lives.

One last thing. The GOP’s broader commitments—to minimal public investment, high defense spending, and state-based government—appeal mostly to a shrinking group of white Americans, many of whom are hostile to immigrants and other minorities. If the Republican Party is doing poorly with all nonwhites, it’s because this agenda does little to address their needs and concerns.