We all know that Hispanic Americans spurned Mitt Romney and the Republicans in 2012, and we know all the reasons why. Their voting behavior has been exhaustively explored. But it turns out that Asian Americans detest the GOP just as much, for reasons that the party should seriously heed. But probably won’t.
According to a report last summer by the Pew Research Center, “Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated, and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances, and direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work, and career success.” Wow. High incomes, hard work, family values…a classic Republican cohort, right?
Wrong. Last November, Republicans were slaughtered. A whopping 76 percent of Asian Americans voted for President Obama; only 23 percent backed Romney. That 53-point gap was way bigger than even the Hispanic gap (44 points) and the Jewish gap (38 points). Asian Americans – six percent of the population; largely of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Indian, and Vietnamese descent – are heavily concentrated in the far West and the Northeast, so their landslide rejection of the GOP helped fuel the party’s shutout in the nation’s two populous regions.
And early this week, Gallup released a new report on Asian Americans, based on a year-long tracking poll. It was a doozy. Fifty seven percent now identify as Democrats; only 28 percent call themselves Republicans. But for the GOP, that bad news was only the beginning.
The party gap is even wider among young Asian Americans, aged 18 to 34. Their loyalties are arguably the most crucia, because nearly 6 in 10 Asian Americans are in that age bracket – which is why, according to Gallup, “Asian Americans as a whole are the youngest of any racial or ethnic group.” Among the abundant young, 61 percent identify as Democrats, and only 24 percent identify as Republicans. Gallup concludes: “If this pattern were to continue throughout (young Asians’) lifetimes, the GOP would likely face a structural disadvantage in national elections.”
Gee, ya think? Given their huge deficit among Hispanics, and young people in general, the last thing Republicans need is yet another structural disadvantage.
And how times have changed. Back in 1992, Asian Americans decisively supported Republican incumbent George H. W. Bush; the Democratic challenger, Bill Clinton, got only 31 percent of their votes. Four years later, Asian Americans gave a plurality of their votes to Republican Bob Dole. So what accounts for their fundamental shift in the years since? Why have they massively bailed on the GOP?
We don’t need to guess. A pair of University of California political scientists, digging into data from the nonpartisan National Asian American Survey, have identified what they call “push and pull” factors. Asian Americans have been pulled toward the Democrats (and Obama in particular) mostly because they believe in the government safety net (health care in particular), and, secondarily, because the president has appointed a record number of their ethnic brethen to high-profile posts, most notably Energy secretary Steven Chu and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim. Obama also tapped a Californian, Goodwin Liu, for a federal appeals judgeship – but Liu was thwarted by a Senate Republican filibuster (natch). Liu’s ill-fated nomination, and his long Republican-induced limbo, was heavily chronicled in the Asian American media.
Which brings us to the “push” factors. The Liu affair helped push some Asian voters away from the GOP, but, in the scheme of things, that was minor. Here is what’s major: the GOP’s social intolerance (according to a Pew report last summer, Asian Americans support gay marriage by a wide margin), its anti-immigrant tone, and, perhaps most importantly, its hostility to modern disciplines like science and evolutionary biology.
As Lloyd Green, a Bush ’88 campaign counsel and later a Justice Department lawyer, wrote last week, “Asian American students tend to concentrate in the STEM jobs – sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” In the workplace, a disportionate share of Asians are “a subset of high-tech America, and one thing is clear: high-tech America is not in love with the Republican party.”
In short, most Asian voters – especially the younger ones – have no patience for a party that denies manmade climate change, curbs stem cell research (as George W. Bush did), and often uses a Biblical measure to peg the age of Earth.
Menzie Chinn, an economics professor at the Robert M. LaFollette School of Public Affairs in Wisconsin, recently pointed out that Asians in this country “have a belief in progress by way of science and technology…The generation of my parents – who came from China – saw enough rigid, dogmatic ideology run amok, thank you very much.” He said that if Republicans truly want to reconnect with the Asian electorate, “they will have to think more deeply about whether the age of Earth is closer to 4000 or four billion years.”
Will the GOP defy its conservative base and get on board with science? Don’t hold your breath. The landslide Democratic advantage among Asian Americans appears safe for the foreseeable future.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1