Why aren’t Asians Republicans? For one thing, more than half of them live in California, New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii

by Andrew Gelman on November 27, 2012 · 28 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Immigration,Political Parties

Conservative data cruncher Charles Murray asks, “Why aren’t Asians Republicans?”:

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. . . . 70% of Asians voted for Barack Obama in the last presidential election.

Something’s wrong with this picture. . . . 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.” . . .

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. . . .

A few years ago, I addressed neoconservative Norman Podhoretz’s argument that Jews should vote Republican:

A problem with Podhoretz’s argument is it proves too much. Why are Jews Democrats? Why is anyone a Democrat? Once you accept that conservative economic policies are good for growth, you’d think just about everyone would lean Republican on economic issues.

Murray’s argument is, unsurprisingly, more sophisticated and data-based than that offered by Podhoretz. In particular, Murray explicitly makes the economic argument that a financially successful person should want to vote Republican. From this perspective, Murray is not surprised that low or moderate-income Asians vote for Democrats but he’s surprised at the voting patterns of high-income Asians. Murray writes that Asians are more likely than whites to have “conservative-skewed professions” such as managers and engineers—-but there’s a bit difference, politically, between being a manager or engineer in a tech company in California, as compared to the comparable position in an oil company in Texas.

As we discuss in Red State Blue State, it’s the higher-income voters who are more likely to vote based on social issues. Murray writes:

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.

I don’t know what Murray means by “except among Republicans.” Rick Santorum is a Republican, no? If he’s not a “Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationist,” who is?

And consider Marco Rubio, a prominent Republican who got into a bit of trouble recently for either admitting he does not believe in evolution, or going to a lot of trouble to deny he believes in evolution. According to this site (which I found by googling Marco Rubio abortion), Rubio “opposed Sotomayor nomination based on her Roe support.” Here he’s quoted as saying “’America cannot truly fulfill its destiny unless’ it ends abortion.” Rubio also “supports amendment to prevent same sex marriage,” “supports banning homosexuals in the military,” and “opposes employment non-discrimination act.” Lots of Americans share these views and Rubio has every right to promote them—-but “anti-gay, anti-abortion creationist” pretty much covers it.

To put it another way, most Republican voters are not “Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists,” but many prominent Republican leaders are.

Where do Asian voters live?

One way to understand the Asian vote is to ask where these voters live. It’s not in Alabama.

According to this site, the states with lots of Asians are mostly pretty liberal. Here are the 10 states with highest %Asian:

Hawaii
California
New Jersey
New York
Nevada
Washington
Maryland
Virginia
Alaska
Massachusetts

And after that comes Illinois. And within these states I assume the Asians are likely to live in or near big cities.

At the bottom of the list, at less than 1% Asian, you have solidly Republican Montana, West Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Mississippi.

California alone is big enough that its 13% Asian represent a large proportion of all the Asians in the country. (Here’s a quick calculation: California has 38 million people, so 13% Asian comes to 5 million. The U.S. has 312 million people, 4.8% Asian, thus a total of 15 million.) A third of Asians in America live in California. And a bunch of the rest live in New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii.

This doesn’t by itself explain why Obama got so much of the Asian vote—-but it’s not a surprise that members of a minority group concentrated in urban areas on the Pacific coast and the Northeast are mostly voting for Democrats.

P.S. The commenters below add many helpful references. Let me emphasize that the above discussion is not intended to be the whole story. I’m just trying to put Murray’s claims in a political and geographic context.

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