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Asian-American Voters as a Republican Parable

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They tend to gravitate to private sector and many of them have created and managed small businesses. Some belong to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, and most are doing quite well in terms of income and job security. They also are very family-oriented and subscribe to more traditional values.

Indeed, based on these and other social and economic indications, Asian-Americans as an electoral bloc should have been a natural ally of a Republican Party that is, after all, committed to the principles of the free market, supports the interests of small businesses and celebrates social-conservative values.

In fact, if presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney wanted to demonstrate to voters that energizing the private sector -- and not growing government -- is the most effective way to provide Americans with an opportunity to advance their economic standing, he could point to Asian-Americans, whose median weekly earnings have been greater than those earned by whites during the last decade and whose unemployment rate has remained relatively low even during the recent recession.

Indeed, a 2011 U.S. Labor Department report concluded that Asian-Americans are more likely than either whites or blacks to be employed in the private sector, with more than 8 to 10 percent of employed Asian-Americans working for private companies, and that the number of Asian-owned businesses expanded at the rate of 40.4 percent, a rate that more than doubled the national average between 2002 and 2007.

Moreover, that many Asian-Americans trace their roots to countries that have been and still are under the control of Communist regimes that had repressed their families should have been another reason for many of them to vote for the party of Ronald Reagan and the other Republican Presidents with impressive anti-Communist credentials.

Yet, according to a recent study conducted by Lake Research Partners, Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters prefer Democratic President Barack Obama over his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

There are an about 17.3 million people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent in the United States, comprising 5.6 percent of the population. Many of them are concentrated in key "swing" states, like Virginia, Nevada and Florida and close to 80 percent of these voters plan to take part in the 2012 election.

The Lake Research survey showed that Asian-Americans tend largely now to identify themselves as Democrats by more than a three-to-one margin. Fifty-nine percent of Asian-Americans favored U.S. President Barack Obama, while only 13 percent preferred presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Twenty-seven percent said they were undecided. That Democrat-Republican split remained largely unchanged since the 2004 presidential election.

During the post-1945 era the majority of Asian-Americans voters that included refugees from Communist-ruled China, Korea and Vietnam tended to identify with the conservative and anti-communist agenda of the Republican Party. Republican George H. W. Bush received 55 percent of the Asian-American vote compared to 31 percent for Democrat Bill Clinton.

But in 2004 it was Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry who won the majority (56 percent) of Asian-American vote, with Obama making even a stronger showing in 2008, getting 62 percent of the Asian-American vote.

While Korean-Americans resist the voting trend among Asian=Americans and continue to lean Republican -- not unlike Cuban-American voters who remain a faithful Republican voting bloc among the pro-Democratic Hispanic community -- the indications are that younger and more educated Asian-Americans are drifting by large numbers to the Democratic side.

According to the Labor Department study, 57.5 percent of employed Asian-Americans who are 25 or older have a degree, a proportion that is 60 percent higher than among whites, and more than twice that of blacks.

Moreover, 7.8 percent of jobs in this the high-tech industries are going to Asian-American workers, making them well-represented there compared with their overall representations in the labor force (5 percent). And Asian-Americans are similarly well represented in science, technology, engineering and math occupations, accounting for more than 9 percent of jobs there.

In short, the younger and more educated Asian-Americans tend to fit into the demographic profile of the highly-educated and upper-middle class professionals who reside in area like northern Virginia or North Carolina's Research Triangle who voted for Obama in 2008 and made it possible for him to win these two crucial "swing" states.

In a way, these Asian-American voters -- very much like the white members of what sociologist Richard Florida refers to the "creative class" -- mirror image the problem that Democrats face when it comes to white blue collar workers. In both cases, it's cultural affinity and not economic interests that seem to determine voting behavior.

Your average Asian-American (or white) high-tech entrepreneur, software engineer or graphic designer may have benefited professionally and economically from the free market environment of the 1990's. But he or she feels less comfortable with a political party perceived to be dominated by white politicians that exhibits what many see as being intolerant toward minorities and immigrants.

Most Republican leaders and voters don't share xenophobic and anti-immigration attitudes. Republican politicians of Indian-American ancestry (who converted to Christianity) were elected as governors of Louisiana and South Carolina. And when Republican politicians, like former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, adopt an election platform that is tolerant of minorities and immigrants, the majority of Asian-Americans are inclined to support him.

Indeed, if the Republican Party would have elected such a pro-immigration candidate as former Utah Governor (and former U.S. Ambassador to Singapore and China) Jon Huntsman to run against Obama in November, it's quite likely that when it came to Asian-American voters, he would have given the Democratic president a run for his money.

But the continuing obsession of so many Republican and conservative activists with "birtherism" and with the president's alleged "Muslim" faith only helps to accentuate the notion that Republicans are hostile toward immigrants and toward Americans who are non-white and non-Christian.

Republicans should recognize the obvious: that they cannot rely in the long run in their quest for the presidency and other national political offices on the votes of the diminishing demographic groups of white blue-collar workers, and that changing economic and sociological trends are strengthening the electoral power of the fastest growing immigrant community of Asian-Americans, many of whom are joining the ranks of the "creative class" whose members could determine the outcome of elections in key states.

The GOP is probably not going to win the support of the majority of African-American and Hispanic voters anytime soon. But Republicans are now in danger of losing the votes of another important demographic group that could have been its natural political ally.