Why Asian Americans Don’t Vote Republican

A voter drops off her election ballot at a drop box in Portland, Oregon November 4, 2008. REUTERS/Richard Clement

During the recent No Labels-hosted Problem Solver Convention in New Hampshire, things got a little uncomfortable.

When Joseph Choe, an Asian-American college student, stood up to ask a question about South Korea, Donald Trump cut him off and wondered aloud: “Are you from South Korea?”

Choe responded, “I’m not. I was born in Texas, raised in Colorado.” His answer prompted laughter from the audience, and nothing more than a shrug from the GOP presidential candidate. Watch. ↓ 

Media outlets like NPR and the Huffington Post mocked this interaction as a “Where are you from?” moment.

A fellow conference attendee who walked by Choe subsequently joked, “You’re gonna have to show him your birth certificate, man!”

Although Trump probably did not intend to offend, this interaction likely reminded Choe and other Asian-American voters that being Asian often translates to being perceived by fellow Americans as a foreigner.

However innocuous Trump’s question may seem, this is exactly the sort of exchange that could, in part, be pushing Asian Americans – the highest-income, most-educated, and fastest-growing segment of the United States – toward the Democratic Party by landslide margins.

A landslide for Obama

In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama won 73% of the Asian-American vote. That exceeded his support among traditional Democratic Party constituencies like Hispanics (71%) and women (55%).

Republicans should be alarmed by this statistic, as Asians weren’t always so far out of reach for Republicans.

When we examine presidential exit polls, we see that 74% of the Asian-American vote went to the Republican presidential candidate just two decades ago. The Democratic presidential vote share among Asian Americans has steadily increased from 36% in 1992, to 64% in the 2008 election to 73% in 2012. Asian-Americans were also one of the rare groups that were more favorable to President Obama in the latter election.

This dramatic change in party preference is stunning. No other group has shifted so dramatically in their party identification within such a short time period. Some are calling it the “GOP’s Asian erosion.”

Moreover, Asian Americans as a group have a number of attributes that would usually predict an affinity for the Republican Party.

American Enterprise Institute’s notes:

If you’re looking for a natural Republican constituency, Asians should define ‘natural’ … And yet something has happened to define conservatism in the minds of Asians as deeply unattractive.

As shown by Andrew Gelman and his coauthors in their book Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do, income is a powerful driver of political party preferences. Generally, richer voters are more likely to vote Republican.

Asian Americans’ income is, on average, higher than any other ethnic group in the United States. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2009, the median Asian household had a higher income (US$65,469) than the median white household ($51,863). Median black and Hispanic household incomes were $32,584 and $38,039, respectively.

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