Politics and Public Opinion

Why aren’t Asians Republicans?

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Last week, I pointed out that there is no such thing as a natural social-conservative skew among Latino Americans. But that leaves open a rejoinder, expressed by several readers: The GOP doesn’t need to get all of the Latino vote, just its fair share. That’s true, and I should have made my point clearer. In the wake of the election, some social conservatives have tried a new version of the old Silent Majority argument, contending that Republicans can continue to make their candidates pass litmus tests on abortion and gay marriage and still win national elections if only it taps the natural social conservatism of Latinos. Exposing that illusion was the point of the numbers I presented.

This time I will explicitly offer a broader argument and then give the numbers. My thesis is that the GOP is in trouble across the electoral board because it has become identified in the public mind with social conservatism. Large numbers of Independents and Democrats who are naturally attracted to arguments of fiscal discipline, less government interference in daily life, greater personal responsibility, and free enterprise refuse to vote for Republicans because they are so put off by the positions and rhetoric of social conservatives, whom they take to represent the spirit of the “real” GOP.

I use Asian-Americans as an example of how powerfully this antipathy can alienate a naturally conservative voting bloc. Let it be clear: The causal link with social conservatism is asserted here, not proved. But the GOP had better take the hypothesis seriously.

Let’s start with data from the Current Population Survey from 2003 on some key socioeconomic indicators for adults ages 30–49. (The CPS first started identifying Asians separately from other ethnic groups in 2003).

Source: Current Population Survey, 2003–2010, for persons ages 30–49. “Asian” includes South Asian and Filipino. “Conservative-skewed professions” are managers, engineers, physicians, dentists, veterinarians, and non-academic hard scientists. “Liberal-skewed professions” are college faculty, attorneys, non-academic social scientists, writers, and journalists. Categorizations are based on conservative-minus-liberal proportions in the General Social Survey.

Politically, a college education is a wash—in the General Social Survey, almost identical proportions of college graduates identify themselves as liberals and conservatives. But Asians are also richer, more often in conservative-skewed professions, equally married, and less often divorced than non-Latino whites—all indicators that normally identify disproportionately conservative voters.

Now let’s turn to the political indicators provided by the General Social Survey.

Source: General Social Survey, 2000–2010. “Asian” includes South Asian and Filipino.

Asians are only half as likely to identify themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative” as whites, and less than half as likely to identify themselves as Republicans. Asians are not only a lot more liberal than whites; a higher percentage of Asians identify themselves as “liberal” or “extremely liberal” (22%) than do blacks (19%) or Latinos (17%). And depending on which poll you believe, somewhere in the vicinity of 70% of Asians voted for Barack Obama in the last presidential election.

Something’s wrong with this picture. It’s not just that the income, occupations, and marital status of Asians should push them toward the right. Everyday observation of Asians around the world reveal them to be conspicuously entrepreneurial, industrious, family-oriented, and self-reliant. If you’re looking for a natural Republican constituency, Asians should define “natural.”

Can the Republicans write them off as a special case in the same way that Jews have been a special case? That’s hard to do, because their stories are so different. Many of the Jews who immigrated to America had been socialists, trade-union activists, or otherwise committed to the Left in their native lands, and those family traditions have sometimes perpetuated themselves. The great majority of non-political Jewish immigrants came from places where they had been systematically persecuted for being Jews, and it is easy to see how Jews might have an enduring propensity to side with the underdog.

In contrast, virtually no Asian Americans came here because they were fleeing persecution for being Asian. They sometimes fled political persecution by the Communists, especially from Vietnam, but that experience tends to produce conservative immigrants, not liberal ones. Usually, Asians came to the United States for the traditional reason: America was the land of opportunity where they could rise in the world. Asian immigrants overwhelmingly succeeded, another experience that tends to produce conservative immigrants. Beyond that, Asian minorities everywhere in the world, including America, tend to be underrepresented in politics—they’re more interested in getting ahead commercially or in non-political professions than in running for office or organizing advocacy groups. Lack of interest in politics ordinarily translates into a “just don’t bother us” attitude that trends conservative.

Further, there are reasons for Asian Americans not to like Democrats. Asians who became successful because everyone in the family worked two or three jobs (a common strategy behind Asian success) are likely to be offended by the liberal “You didn’t build that” mentality. Unlike every other minority group, Asians owe nothing to the Democrats for affirmative action. On the contrary, Asians are penalized by affirmative action, especially in the universities, where discrimination against Asian applicants (relative to their superb academic qualifications) has been documented in the technical literature.

And yet something has happened to define conservatism in the minds of Asians as deeply unattractive, despite all the reasons that should naturally lead them to vote for a party that is identified with liberty, opportunity to get ahead, and economic growth. I propose that the explanation is simple. Those are not the themes that define the Republican Party in the public mind. Republicans are seen by Asians—as they are by Latinos, blacks, and some large proportion of whites—as the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists. Factually, that’s ludicrously inaccurate. In the public mind, except among Republicans, that image is taken for reality.

437 thoughts on “Why aren’t Asians Republicans?

  1. Do the math. About 20% of the country are bible-thumping fundamentalists. About 35% of the country is Republican. If 90% of the fundamentalists vote republican, over half of the Republican Party is made up of crazed Christianists. The rest of the country is well aware of this and have no desire to be associated with them, especially when they realize that Republican talk of economic freedom simply costumes the dark instincts of vulture capitalism.

  2. The arrogant racism of Charles Murray — “Those Asians just don’t know what’s good for them!” — is typical of Republican “intellectuals”. They might be able to fool their bible-thumping base of ignorant bigots, but Asians are intelligent, well read, and cognizant of their own interests … which do not lay with the GOP. The truth is that no one’s interests lay with the GOP, as numerous historical statistics demonstrate.

    • This, as well as Lenny Pincus’s comment at 3:03 pm.

      As Marcel said: “The truth is that no one’s interests lay with the GOP” – except for the 1% of course.

    • As an Asian American I don’t find Charles Murray’s conjectures arrogant or racist. On the contrary I find them rather accurate. I and many of my Asian friends and family do feel exactly this way, that the values of this country that led us to admire it enough to immigrate here are the “true” conservatives values, which we would identify with politically — family enterprise, community involvement, quiet politics, rational government.

      But by the time George W. Bush took office, the conservative party was almost completely co-opted by ignorant rednecks who viewed Asians as perpetual foreigners and job thieves and Manchurian Candidates. By the time Obama took office, they had grown to include the isolationist and revisionist Tea Party, which had distorted traditional American values beyond all recognition.

      • As an Asian-American university student, I can confirm this. The conservatism that Asian immigrants can “naturally” identify with might fall within the category of what is known as “paleoconservatism”, which emphasizes pro-marketism and non-interventionism. This kind of conservatism may sometimes put social issues on the back burner in favor of focusing on economic development, but it is not in itself homophobic or racist. I think paleoconservatism is much more palatable for many Asian-Americans than the virulent strain of extreme rightism, but the latter group is much, much louder.

        I also have to add that people are too quick to pounce on universities as places that are liberal by default. A good university tempers its students so that they may have a nuanced view of the political spectrum and understand the main arguments (and the logic) of both camps. In fact, it wasn’t until college that I developed a much more moderate economic stance.

    • “The arrogant racism of Charles Murray — “Those Asians just don’t know what’s good for them!” — is typical of Republican “intellectuals”. They might be able to fool their bible-thumping base of ignorant bigots, but Asians are intelligent, well read, and cognizant of their own interests … which do not lay with the GOP. The truth is that no one’s interests lay with the GOP, as numerous historical statistics demonstrate.”

      Odd… most Republicans I know, apart from being neither ignorant nor bigoted, actually know the difference between “lay” and “lie.”

      • WOW! That was clever. What insight! What unshakeable erudition goeth forth!

        By pointing out a single (albeit completely insignificant) grammatical error, you’ve successfully elided the (very compelling) charge that racially paternalistic assumptions underLIE the entire article. Bravo, sir! Bravo!

      • Seriously? Most Republicans you know know the difference? Congratulations you are running with an elite group. Most Republicans I know DON’T know the difference. But then in all fairness to them I don’t know of many people of any political persuasion that know the difference, or if they do they don’t use it.

  3. “The GOP doesn’t need to get all of the Latino vote, just its fair share. ”

    Yes, that’s a Republican principle, that everyone get a fair share regardless of merit. Wait, what? That’s like saying that everyone should get a fair share of IQ points. Sorry, Charlie, but your low IQ and your party’s low vote count are not subject to redistribution.

    “by the liberal “You didn’t build that” mentality”

    As others have pointed out, this is where Murrays’ intellectual dishonesty shines through the brightest. There is no such “liberal mentality”, it was entirely a construction of a grossly dishonest Romney campaign. The genuine liberal mentality, that Obama actually expressed, and that is factually true, is “You didn’t build that ALONE”. And it is addressed not to entrepreneurs, but to the GOP’s propaganda construct of “job creators” vs. “moochers and takers”, designed to keep tax rates low on corporations and the uberrich, taxs being theft and all of that … unless it’s the middle class and the poor who are paying them.

    “a party that is identified with liberty, opportunity to get ahead, and economic growth”

    SELF-identified, but there is no such identification in actual fact. GOP policies consistently work against all of those.

  4. I don’t understand how he finds the description of the GOP as anti-abortion and anti-homosexual as “Factually, that’s ludicrously inaccurate”. Has he bothered to read the GOP 2012 platform. It is right there in black & white.

  5. “Factually, that’s ludicrously inaccurate.”

    Ludicrously accurate, you mean. I speak as an ex-republican.

    Another point: no one is an “Asian.” Chinese people are not Koreans and Filipinos are neither. Ditto Japanese people. They all have their own histories and their own ways of doing things. Once in America, they all face the traditional racism and xenophobia. Why vote for people who clearly don’t want them?

    • “Once in America, they all face the traditional racism and xenophobia.”

      Why do they come here then if it’s so evil? America is clearly the most immoral and evil nation in the world based off of what I’ve read from left wing authors on the internet, so I can’t figure out why all these people keep coming here.

  6. Your description of the (in your view inaccurate) public perception of the GOP as “the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists” misses one key component: the Republican party is seen as the one for whites – and old whites, at that. Being a minority group that is relatively young, that is a natural turn-off for Asian-Americans. Secondly, the demographics of Asian-Americans are changing. As you note, in the past there have been Asians fleeing places like Vietnam and 1950s Korea who had a strong anti-communist bent; these Asians supported the GOP because it was the “stronger,” more hard-line anti-communist party. Indeed, it is for the same reason that Cuba-Americans until recently have been a conservative bloc despite the overall support for Democrats among Hispanics. But Asian-Americans motivated by anti-communist sentiments are a declining proportion of the group. Meanwhile, most first-generation Asian immigrants (and Asians in general) are significantly less politically active than average, especially since many of them are still trying to figure out the American political system. Therefore, Asian-American children are brought up in homes where no political ideology is imposed on them. As Asian-American kids interact with other young people, they become influenced by the liberalism of young Americans in general. Lastly, geography is an important factor. Asians have mostly immigrated to Democratic strongholds like California, Hawaii, and New Jersey, and if the culture surrounding you is liberal, you are more likely to become liberal too. Moreover, Asian immigrants disproportionately settle down in cities, which are usually even more Democratic than the states of which they are part – compare LA and San Francisco to the rest of California, for instance. All of these factors combine to make Asian-Americans now a blue bloc of voters.

    As an additional note, I don’t think the perception of the GOP as consisting of “Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists” is “ludicrous.” No, not all or even most Republicans personally fit that description, but it is the PARTY of the people who fit the description, and the radical right-wing has hijacked the party and hushed up the moderates. Likewise, the majority of Republicans don’t think Obama is from Kenya or that he’s a Muslim and might even cringe a little at terms like “death panel.” But it is not inaccurate to say that these developments have come out of the Republican camp, and it is tainted for it.

    • I agree with everything Rico has stated here except the suggestion that most Republicans “don’t think Obama is from Kenya.” The following scientific poll (conducted by a professor of Political Science at Dartmouth) found that “55% of Republicans do not believe Obama is from the United States.” (http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/55-of-republicans-believe-obama-was-born-in-a-foreign-country/)

      That’s a majority in my book. And the professor’s poll is hardly the only one. This CBS / NY Times poll has the number at 45%, which – if you take into account margin of error – still strongly suggests that a good half of Republicans believe that racist crap.

      Yes, the party of Lincoln has become *that* ignorant.

  7. I completely agree with your analysis. I work in the computer industry where there are a lot of Asians.

    Almost every Asian I know is economically compatible with the GOP, but they are not culturally compatible with the GOP.

    A lot of Asians are not Christians.

    A lot of Asians don’t even believe in A god. Hindus believe in multiple gods. Other Asians have spiritual beliefs that don’t have involved any gods at all.

    I’ve talked to a lot of Asians. They would love to vote for the GOP because of economics, but the bible thumping rhetoric coming from some GOP politicians makes Asians believe that the GOP is hostile to them culturally.

    This is a real problem for the GOP moving forward.

  8. Maybe Asians like the controlling instincts of the political-left because they actually like to be controlled? Maybe the political-left is the extension of their parental figures in childhood…and that “father figure” is what they want before anything? The left makes them feel more secure?

    I notice the Asian mind is different. It seems more industrious (behaviourally) than reflective. Dare I say they are more like “slaves”. Intelligent, sure, but more a “technician breed” than an autonomous breed.

    Try associating political leanings to testosterone. That might be interesting too.

    • Congratulations Andrew! That has got to be the most offensive, overtly racist comment on this post (and there have been some doozies).

      You did, however, manage indirectly to answer the larger question of why Asians have been alienated by conservatism in this country. Indeed, how could an Asian American read something like that and not be instantly turned off? We are only left to wonder why republicans can’t see that how insulting they can be.

      • I agree. Andrew could have worn a T-shirt that said “I am a racist” and his message could not have been more overt.


      • Offended Jon? You’re not offended at all. You’re celebrating a feeling of moral superiority.

        Yes, my comment was hideously cheeky, and I was curious to test the response. I’m not actually racist, but I don’t expect (or care) if you believe otherwise.

        Anyway, in New Zealand (my home country) I notice both Asians and Indians tend to be exceedingly conformist to their parents dictate. They fit into our society well, but honestly I wish they would show some more guts. To me, only the self-determined life is a dignified life. I’m not overly impressed by people who are (or seem to be) little more than the spitting image of what their parents wanted them to be.

        And a final point. We will know that we have overcome our racism when we can talk (and think) freely about racial differences.

        • <>

          Translation: We know that we will have overcome our racism when we can ascribe basic psychological attributes (in this case: conformism) to an entire population based on race.

  9. I wonder if one reason is that Republicans are much more likely to say immigrants should learn English and assimilate to American culture. Just a thought.

    I read once that a good predictor of party affiliation was whether or not you paid property taxes. I wonder what home ownership looks like in that Asian and American-Asian community.

    • “I read once that a good predictor of party affiliation was whether or not you paid property taxes.”

      I read once that the GOP is the party of the rich. Funny how someone actually noticed a correlation between immense wealth and affiliation with the Republican Party.

      Did the person you were reading hold a doctorate in political science or something? Because . . . that is just the most amazing correlation I’ve ever heard. I’ll bet there’s a correlation between the number of Mercedes and Jaguars owned and GOP membership. Or amount of caviar consumed. The possibilities are endless!

      • The super rich are the entertainment industry elites…all Democrats. This is one of the main reasons they win more elections now…they have more money.

        • Obama and Romney received almost an equal amount of campaign contributions last year:


          Also, there is not a single entertainer in all of Hollywood that has anywhere NEAR the money of Sheldon Adelson (net worth $27 BILLION), Rupeert Murdoch (net worth $13 BILLION) or the Koch Brothers ($72 BILLION), all of whom gave hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions to the Republicans last year, so please: don’t make the Republicans out to be some kind of underdogs, because clearly they are not.

  10. So I will agree that bible thumpers and tea partiers are crazy extremists in the GOP but so are gay/bi/trans activists in the Democratic party whose ideas about reconstructing society in their image have far more dangerous consequences, yet they are fully embraced. In California they now have children using whatever bathroom, locker room or shower they prefer regardless of gender. Please enlighten me as to how this is saner than the bible thumpers who just want to maintain the status quo?

    • “. . . gay/bi/trans activists” with “ideas about reconstructing society in their image”?

      I’ve never seen an LGBT person express a desire to see society recreated in his or her image. I have seen LGBT enjoy the same rights the rest of us do, which is fine with me.

      Because I’m not a douchebag.

    • I guess you’ve ignored the entire comments thread, Greg. Many people have pointed out many reasons why Asians vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

      Really not much of a puzzler at all.

  11. If one feels something strongly it is easy to over estimate the number of people who feel the same way, and easy to under estimate the difficulty of converting others to one’s persuasion.

    Well educated, affluent Republicans like Charles Murray have rarely liked the religious right. Nevertheless, it has become an essential Republican constituency. Without it affluent Republicans like Charles Murray would certainly be paying higher taxes.

    I have followed the religious right since 1980 with interest, and an element of sympathy. I have not seen surveys to confirm this, but it seems to be a lower middle class phenomenon. Before Jerry Falwell started the Moral Majority in 1979 most of those people either voted Democratic for economic reasons, or they thought politics was a dirty business and waited passively for the Second Coming of Christ.

    Jerry Falwell convinced them that Ronald Reagan – who spent his formative years in Hollywood, who was our first divorced president, and who rarely attended church – shared their values, concerns, and goals.

    Even if Charles Murray is right that abandoning social conservatism would win the votes of Asians there are many more Protestant Fundamentalists and Evangelicals in the United States than Asians.

    For social conservatives the moral climate in which they live and raise their children is the issue. They do not benefit from tax cuts for the rich. They have not benefited from Republican economic policies since the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. Many of them know it.

    Also, there is more to social conservatism than opposition to gay marriage and abortion. Asians tend to be less sexually active than whites, they have lower rates of crime, illegitimacy, and divorce.

  12. My thesis is that the GOP is in trouble across the electoral board because it has become identified in the public mind with social conservatism.

    - Charles Murray

    The Republican Party faces another problem, which as an economic conservative – actually an economic reactionary – he would not be expected to care about.

    This is the growing income gap. The rich are getting richer as incomes for most Americans stagnate or decline.

    The Democrats have not been good at exploiting this, but it is a Democratic issue.

  13. A lot of the same Republicans who like to gloat about low black test scores and who complain about blacks on welfare become angry when I remind them that Orientals tend to earn higher test scores and incomes than white Gentiles.

    They refer to Oriental success in the classroom and on the job as “race displacement,” and even “genocide.”

    The Republican Party has become a magnet for the most unhinged and hate filled whites in the United States. These whites do not think Orientals in the United States should be allowed to take advantage of their talent and hard work. Many would like to deport Orientals, even those whose ancestors came to the United States before they were born.

    Most Orientals know this. They shrink from the GOP with the loathing it deserves.

  14. Alternative Hypothesis: Asians understand the full context, which means “you didn’t build that ON YOUR OWN. You used public roads, and regulations that allow for clean air, water, and ensure contracts will be honored. You benefited from a working class who worked your stores and bought your goods/services.” Asians (NE Asians especially) come from countries with high social spending than the US. Universal Healthcare is literally a given. From their point of view, it does take a village to raise a child.

    As long as “the white Republican establishment” continues to project their own cultural assumptions on how Asians (and for that matter, blacks and Hispanics), they will never be successful in understanding why they keep voting Democrat.

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