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).
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.
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.