Friday, October 26, 2012

Why are Asian Americans Liberal? (Are They Even?)

Dear Korean,

According to polling data, Asian Americans tend to be more liberal on average than other minority groups. In fact they are the second most Democratic ethnic group in America according to this poll. The Gallup poll linked fails to give me any convincing reasons as to why Asian-Americans are liberal. In fact, Asians seem to fit the mold of a more conservative voter: they are wealthy, they tend to raise talented children with a strict upbringing, first generation immigrants tend to be more socially conservative, and most of them don't really care for an active, high taxing government. So why are Asian-Americans more likely to be liberal Democrats?

Right Wing Nut Job

'tis a season for politics in both U.S. and Korea, as both countries are gearing up for the presidential election at the end of this year. So let's talk some politics -- first, on the U.S. end.

Before we begin, full disclosure: the Korean is a Democrat, because he thinks the taxes are too low and the federal government is too small. (Seriously.) Take the following for what it's worth, which may not be a lot.

Right Wing Nut Job is exactly right that, in general, Asian Americans seem to have many, if not most, of the traditional characteristics of conservative-leaning Americans. Asian Americans have the highest household income among all races in America. They tend to value family relationship. Many Asian Americans are staunchly Christian (yours truly included,) and therefore tend to be on the more traditional side of many hot button cultural issues in American politics, such as same sex marriage. Finally, many Asian Americans are small business owners, who generally favor lower taxes and less regulations. So what's with the Gallup poll that shows Asian Americans being liberal?

There are two possibilities -- the Gallup Poll could be flawed, or there are real reasons why Asian Americans tend to be more liberal. The Korean thinks both scenarios are plausible. Let's address each in turn.

The Gallup Poll could be flawed, because surveying of Asian Americans is tricky for a number of reasons. Compared to, say, African Americans, Asian Americans are a very diverse group with very diverse historical experience. Asia is a big continent, covering all the way from the edge of Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean. The circumstances by which various Asian American groups arrive at America are markedly different as well. Indians who immigrate to the U.S. tend to be in the middle-class with white collar professions that requires advanced degrees. Cambodians and Laotians, in contrast, arrive at American shores as poorer working class.

Language barrier is also a significant factor when it comes to surveying Asian Americans. Compared to other ethnicities, Asian Americans are disproportionately comprised of first generation immigrants who are often not completely comfortable speaking English. When an English-speaking pollster calls, most such Asian Americans would simply hang up the phone.

But there are also real reasons why Asian Americans tend to be more liberal. The Korean cannot say for certain whether Asian Americans, overall, are more liberal. But he can say with relative confidence that Asian Americans who vote -- the subgroup of Asian Americans whose political opinion truly matters -- tend to lean strongly toward the left. And when we look at the demographic characteristics of this particular subgroup, it makes perfect sense that they tend to be more Democratic.

Asian Americans who are likely to vote tend to be young, because the older generation of Asian Americans tend to be disconnected from mainstream America because of language and cultural issues. Asian Americans also tend to live in large cities, where the jobs are. They are generally highly educated, frequently with post-graduate degrees. All of these characteristics tend to indicate a lean toward the Democratic Party.

One additional factor that particularly affects Asian American voters: they are immigrants and racial minorities. And -- whether these perceptions are fair or not -- there is no question as to which party is winning the hearts and minds of immigrants. (Hint: it's not the party that opposes a sensible immigration reform laws like the DREAM Act.)

Next up, an overview of the upcoming presidential election of Korea.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. i don't know about political ..

  2. Martin Wolf, highly respected economics writer at the Financial Times, agrees with TK that taxes in the US are too low!

  3. (for the very very rich, that is)

  4. Income tax rates are too high. There are way, way too many deductions though. Probably should be a national VAT as well as national stamp tax and property (preferably land) tax. So Democrats are messed up because they want to do everything through income tax RATES on high earners while Republicans are messed up because they don't understand we need a better Patent Office, better transit policies, better airports, etc. for faster growth and a better society.

    IMO reason 2 (immigration issues) has some validity. Republican denial of evolution and embracing of creationism is also a hot-button issue (I believe it has become so in Korea as well?). Along these same lines, in many states the Republican Party is just cultural-diversity-intolerant/anti-intellectual in general and definitely not focused on the kind of issues (school funding for high achievers,

    I do think that many Asian Americans like to be "tough on crime" though and that Asian-Americans with these beliefs strongly-held may have been undercounted.

  5. Indigenous [no immigrant ties, whatsoever] "African Americans" (I hate the term African American with a passion) ARE diverse in thought and belief. We just don't like airing too much of our internal discussions, conflict, and dissension publicly. In our history in this country, we have learned to keep our cards close to the vest and continue to do so out of an abundance of caution.

    I think one result of this is that on the surface, we can appear to come across monolithic - but anyone who cares enough to dig a little deeper can find the truth. Unfortunately, too many people are comfortable in their ignorance and prejudices because they can't handle the cognitive dissonance, and resulting spiritual/mental warfare, that would be caused by their prejudice/racism colliding with the revelatory light of the truth.

  6. Maybe I should introduce Right Wing Nut Job to my father. He is 67-years-old, has lived in this country for about fifty years, was recently laid off, and has been using his free time to volunteer in the local Democratic Senate campaign and for Obama. He has been going door-to-door all over the place, including out of state, and within the local Chinatown. Granted, we live in a fairly liberal state, but my father's experience volunteering in Chinatown has been quite positive, according to his accounts. My father has been quite passionate about his liberal leanings long before Obama became a household name.

  7. Eshe: I think what TK meant is that there is a difference between the two communities, in that the Asian American community is really composed of dozens of communities based on EXTREMELY different cultures, languages, and countries of origin. Although there is obviously a lot of diversity within the "African American" community, there is also probably a greater wealth of common experiences than there is between, say, Indian Americans, Hmong Americans and Korean Americans, who all have very different group experiences with regard to language, culture, how they came to the US, socioeconomic background, etc. This simply does not exist within the "Indigenous "African American"" community today, although perhaps during the early part of slavery it did. Some people have even questioned whether it is really useful to speak of "Asian Americans", since this could be said to do a disservice by lumping together radically different groups such as Japanese American and Hmong Americans, which often results in a very rosy picture of the community which in turn further disadvantages lower-income communities such as Hmong Americans.

    1. What you said makes perfect sense, and I completely understand how the term Asian American can do a disservice by lumping very different ethnic groups and cultures into one category. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

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  9. You should have seen the expression on my wife's face when I told her that most Asian Americans are liberal. My Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese friends are conservatives. But we have noticed that the Asian Americans from South Asia are very liberal and noticed that many Asian American kids born after the 70's are liberal. My Asian friends and I oppose the Dream Act. We think immigrants should enter the country legally and follow the rules to become a U.S. citizen.

    The question is what is your definition of liberal and where did they get the data for the polls? I am a Republican and I believe in the following: abortion, the right to die, evolution and something created us, and I think it is OK for gay people to get married. I think some of us have a warp view of Republicans, because they think the views of the extreme right wing represents all Republicans.

    Does wanting a subway in your city makes you liberal in the Gallup poll? I love riding the subways in Japan and Taiwan, but does it make sense to force that subway system in all cities in America?


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