New York Times exit polling for the 2012 presidential election showed a surprising trend in Asian-American voters. In areas where exit polling data was available by ethnicity, a surprising 73% of Asian Americans voted for President Obama. The high rate of Asian-American support for the Democratic candidate is surprising, given that by all indications, Asian-Americans would seem to exhibit several characteristics historically in tune with the Republican Party. As New York Times columnist David Brooks points out, Asian Americans are “disproportionately, entrepreneurial, industrious and family-oriented,” all commonalities with the Republican Party platform. So why don’t Asian Americans tend to vote conservatively?
For starters, even though the Asian American voters might gravitate towards identifying with the Republican party, the Democratic party has been more actively pursuing the Asian American vote over the past two decades. As UC-Berkely political science professor Taeku Lee pointed out in a recent LA Times editorial, President Bill Clinton began “wooing” Asian Americans during his presidency. The Democratic Party began to focus more on developing a pro-business stance and the economy was booming, and in this political climate, Clinton oversaw the appointment of Norman Y. Mineta as Commerce Secretary, the first Asian American to be appointed to a U.S. Cabinet. Additionally, Asian Americans were naturalized into American citizenship at a higher rate, perhaps increasing their sense of inclusion under a Democratic political era.
As an immigrant group, Asian Americans needed to be actively incorporated into the American political and social system, a task that Democrats excelled at on a national level under the Obama Administration. In a Slate.com piece, Richard Posner argues that the public perception of the conservative movement is that it is primarily and aggressively made up of white people, which might have made Asian Americans feel excluded. The Obama Administration, on the other hand, pulled the Asian American electorate closer by focusing on policy positions that were important to that electorate, including healthcare and higher education reform. Lee also points out that Republicans might have pushed more Asian American voters away during the last year as they actively spurned dialogue on immigration reform.
In line with this theory, a report published by the Pew Research Center earlier this year indicated that Asian Americans were benefitting at a greater rate during the job recovery than another groups. According to Lynn Vavreck’s work on campaign typology, incumbent candidates benefit from a perceived favorable economic position on Election Day. If Asian Americans were recovering from the recession at a faster pace, they would be more likely to see President Obama as a clarifying candidate and support his bid for re-election.
A study on the rise of Asian Americans shows that Asian Americans are slowly trending towards the mainstream public attitude on social issues including abortion and same-sex marriage. This stark contrast from the remainder of Asian American social values indicates that perhaps the outspoken, polarizing social conservative wing of the Republican Party may have discouraged the Asian American electorate from voting conservatively.
The rise in recent research on Asian American voting patterns in presidential elections indicate that while voters may have intrinsically conservative values, they don’t necessarily see those values being well-represented in today’s Republican party. Additionally, while their values might be conservative, their policy concerns have been far better addressed by the Democratic party.