The Asian Conundrum

I’ve enjoyed the thought-provoking posts on why Asian-Americans went over for Obama in such large numbers — at 70 percent, more than any other ethnic group aside from African-Americans.  My AEI colleague Charles Murray makes some excellent points, as do Rob and Ricochet member TheSophist, who sounds like he was separated at birth from me.

In fact, having spent some time talking with Norman Podhoretz, author of the excellent Why are Jews Liberals?, on the National Review cruise, I’ve been inspired to write a book on Asians and politics. Taking off on Norman’s book, I may perhaps call it Are Asians Liberals?

To me, the similarities between Jews and Asians are compelling. Both have higher incomes and educational levels than the average American. Both hail from a number of different countries and often emigrated here with high amounts of human capital but low levels of material capital. Both come from cultures — despite the broad definition of Asian — that respect and prize scholarship and intellectuals. Both are discriminated against — unconstitutionally, in my view — in college and university admissions, and once, no doubt, in government hiring and contracting. Both prize family values and seem to be more religious than the average voter.

Both groups like Chinese food a lot.

These characteristics should attract both groups to the Republican Party. I think the reason Jews and Asians, however, vote against their interests may be because both groups have been concentrated in cities. One of the big demographic differences in the election, of course, was how the cities went for Obama, while the rural areas and many of the suburbs went for Romney.  Perhaps it is not just ethnicity, or class, although these no doubt have something to do with it. It may be because Asians, like Jews when they first emigrated, have congregated in cities, which are run by Democratic Party machines who may demand a certain level of “loyalty,” shall we say, to compete for city business or to deal with city licenses. To the extent Asians then seek to leave the cities through education and entering the professions, they move into other areas controlled by the left.

But there is a big difference. Since Asians have come in large numbers so recently, starting in the mid-1960′s, their political allegiances are not fixed. Jews today follow in the footsteps of Jews who were part of the original New Deal coalition, and have been a solid part of it ever since. Asians, however, are still in play as it were. There is no historical relationship between Asians and the Democratic Party. And there are historical factors that exist for Asians but not Jews that may in fact lead them toward the GOP, such as their origins in countries that have fought communism, their history of small business, their suspicion of big government (having often come from countries with authoritarian regimes), and so on.  Asians often own small businesses and are disproportionately hurt by high taxes and overregulation. And there have been prominent Asian leaders in the Republican Party — such as Elaine Chao, Bobby Jindal, and Nikki Haley — who have few, if any counterparts, in the Democratic Party.

Thoughts?  On the idea of a book?  On what should be in it?  On arguments that explain the voting patterns better than these?

  1. Pseudodionysius

    Both groups like Chinese food a lot.

    Somehow – regardless of whatever else is in the book – the phrase #2 Special has to appear somewhere in the sub heading.

    On what should be in it?

    I realize that “Asian’s” are not a homogeneous group, but you should devote some ink to the wide differences between Filipino Asians (who converted to Christianity in much larger numbers than elsewhere in Asia) and various other Asian cultures. I do think that Westerners tend to downplay the subtle influence that Buddhist, Hindu, Confuscian and Taoist beliefs have on the implied metaphysic of Asian voters.

    Update: I say this as someone who spends so much time and money at my neighborhood Thai eatery that the owner and I argue about which Greek islands we dislike the most.

  2. AIG

    Reading all these posts about how to attract a particular ethnic group etc., has me feeling a bit jealous. Why is no one pandering to my ethnicity and immigrant class? We want attention too! (jk)

    There is a relatively large literature in Political Science and other fields which has studies the issue of Asian participation and registration patterns. A lot of these questions have been answered there. 

    Second, keep in mind that the largest and fastest growing sub-fields are not the Korean Christians we (almost certainly) speaking of here; it is Chinese and Indians (the former being the largest group, by far, and the latter the fastest growing group). Koreans in the US are the least likely to register and vote, out of these groups. 

    Asians, unlike Jews, do not represent a homogeneous culture or  community. They represent about 1/3 of the population of the globe. 

  3. Jim  Ixtian
    John Yoo:  There is no historical relationship between Asians and the Democratic Party.

    Except for that bit where a Democratic president with a Democratic supermajority in the House and Senate interned 120,000+ Americans merely for having the misfortune of being of the same ethnicity as the nation that went to war with the US on December 7th, 1941.

    All of which makes it even more troubling that any American of Japanese descent would vote for a Democrat. Ever.

  4. TheSophist

    We are somewhat separated at birth, Prof. Yoo. You graduated in ’92 from LAW, I in ’93 from Yale College. If you remember the post-LA Riots protests on Cross Campus, I was deeply involved with that.

    I have far too many ideas on what your book should touch on, but… without question, one of the things you must talk about is the pernicious concept of “People of Color” and how that affects AA’s to work actively against their interests.

    The other aspect, I think, is that the immigration experience is completely different, especially if we’re talking about the Chinese/Japanese/Korean Triad groups, than virtually any other immigrant group — especially the Jews. They were fleeing various pogroms and persecutions, and carried a unique cultural tradition with them that made them strangers in their homelands. Asians were just seeking money, even from the very start (“Gold Mountain” of the 19th century). We weren’t fleeing failed states for the most part (Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines are exceptions.)

    The relationship of the Asian immigrant to the “mother country”, therefore, is unique. I think you need to touch on that.

  5. Richard
    Ursula Hennessey

    Sumomitch: Both the post by Sophist and this one by Yoo are fascinating. 

    Agreed. I wonder if either could comment on whether native-language media, distributed and possibly published here in the US, might have any influence. In other words, is there, say, a Chinese or Korean or Japanese-language newspaper that is especially popular here? Would it cover the relevant issues in the US, as they related to the population it serves? Would the editorials have a Democratic bent? Would they have influence over their readers’ voting choices? · 8 hours ago

    I could tell you a little about Japanese print media, newspapers are financially actually doing comparatively well in Japan as compared to their US counterparts. The main two are the Asahi Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun. In a country of 120million, Yomiuri sells about 13million papers a day and Asahi is at about 10 million. They both put out a morning and an evening paper, about 3/4 of the papers sold are morning. Asahi is hard left wing, the Yomiuri I would say is a little more to the right, but its editorial page is not the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.   

  6. Scarlet Pimpernel

    An hypothesis: Many Asians have risen by playing by the rules. They work hard and study hard. They often excell in school, often in top schools.  As a result, they have risen in America, and are often doing quite well.

    The conservative critique of liberalism argues that the mainstream on campus is fundamentally misguided. It is a misreading of reality. That’s what conservative argue about liberal arts, political science, and, to a slightly lesser degree, economics.

    The implication is that all that hard work has led the best students to swallow a pack of lies.  But those “lies” have helped them get ahead. It does not compute.

  7. TheSophist

    Interestingly enough, I always felt that the immigrant experience that most closely parallels the Asian-American experience (at least the Triad culture) is the Italian and Irish immigrant experience.

    Immense pride in the motherland; came here for opportunity only, not necessarily seeking “freedom” or as refugees. Never lost the belief that their heritage culture was superior to the “American” one. You still find this in pockets of Italian and Irish-American communities.

    Anyhow… more later. Write that book. I’d love to read it.

  8. Mendel

    I would be interested in hearing how Prof. Yoo became a conservative in spite of an apparently strong cultural tendency toward Democrats.

    Same for the Sophist – how does a second generation Korean immigrant go from Ivy League neo-Marxism to down-the-line Texan conservatism?

  9. Richard

    Japan, by the way, has been governed by the more right leaning of the major parties for about 55 of the last 60 years. Currently a more left leaning party is in power, but they are going to be kicked out of office in the up coming election in the middle of next month.  

    Although I would say Jiminto, the more right leaning party, isn’t exactly Reaganesque. They are going to follow through with a hike in the sales tax that the current prime minister has pushed through, and they are pushing for quantitative easing that is more radical than what the current party wants. Not to mention that they were the ones who saddled Japan with all this debt trying to stimulate the economy out of the lost decades. I hope pressure from the growing libertarian party called “Minnanoto” (They call it “Your Party” in English but a better translation would be “Everyone’s Party”)  pushes them in a more fiscally conservative direction. 

  10. Schrodinger

    On the book, I am sure it would do well.

    However, I do feel somewhat uneasy about books that focus on particular ethnic groups. It gives me the sense of acceptance of the leftist premise that people should always be seen through the lense of ethnicity, gender, or race. It also strikes me as the first step to pandering based on communal characteristics. Are we helping the Balkanization of the US?

    The greatest quality of the American experience was the melting pot philosophy. We were Americans first and our ethnic heritage second. It is what united us. Now, we are catagorized by gender, age, ethnicity, religion, etc. Is it any wonder we cannot come together to solve national problems.

    Instead of focusing on why certain groups vote for which party, why not look at why individuals align with each party. Is it that much easier to stereotype people than to examine them on an individual level?

  11. Anne R. Pierce
    C

    Interesting post, and I think it has book potential.

    Re:  It may be because Asians, like Jews when they first emigrated, have congregated in cities, which are run by Democratic Party machines who may demand a certain level of “loyalty,” shall we say, to compete for city business or to deal with city licenses. To the extent Asians then seek to leave the cities through education and entering the professions, they move into other areas controlled by the left.    ——I think you should dig further into the cities theory; I don’t think loyalty and living in areas controlled by the left are enough to explain it, but do think there’s something about cities.

  12. Albert Arthur

    Full title should be: “Are Asians Liberals: One Man’s Journey to the Mayoralty of Oakland, by John Yoo.”

  13. Richard Fulmer

    Is it possible that Asians are more liberal simply because they are concentrated in urban areas?  It may be that city dwellers around the world favor big government more than do people who live in rural areas.  City dwellers are more dependent on infrastructure, such as mass transit, that has traditionally been provided by government and they may therefore view government more favorably.  It may be that their urbanization is a sufficient answer, and that Asian’s culture and history have little or no impact.  You need to determine whether urban, suburban, and rural Asians are more liberal than their neighbors.  If so, a book exploring the reasons for the difference would be valuable.

  14. Chris Campion
    Scarlet Pimpernel: An hypothesis: Many Asians have risen by playing by the rules. They work hard and study hard. They often excell in school, often in top schools.  As a result, they have risen in America, and are often doing quite well.

    The conservative critique of liberalism argues that the mainstream on campus is fundamentally misguided. It is a misreading of reality. That’s what conservative argue about liberal arts, political science, and, to a slightly lesser degree, economics.

    The implication is that all that hard work has led the best students to swallow a pack of lies.  But those “lies” have helped them get ahead. It does not compute. · 1 hour ago

    It may be that a pack of lies is harder to swallow in engineering, finance, economics, accounting, medicine, etc, than it is in Area Studies or Sociology.  I went to college, too, and didn’t swallow the pack of lies – so how did I get ahead?

    That also does not compute.  The reality is that education is a buffet line.  You take what you want, and leave the rest – including the packs of lies. 

  15. Pencilvania

    Mr. Yoo, in your research you may want to interview John Featherman of Philadelphia’s Chinatown section – he’s a Republican/Libertarian who’s run for various local offices, I believe his wife is Asian.  He may have some insights into urban Asian political culture.

  16. Sumomitch

    Both the post by Sophist and this one by Yoo are fascinating. “Asians” is certainly too amorphous a group to generalize about in analyzing political patterns. To focus on the “Triad” group, though, one sees one obvious pattern that might incline them toward liberal politics–the cultural aspiration to college and academic careers.

    In today’s academic world, politically incorrect views can be fatal to career advancement.  Leftist politics are the Brahmin caste religion. Even in the STEM fields, a single politically incorrect utterance is  fatal to an academic career (witness the fate of Nobel Prize-winning biologist Watson). 

    Ironically, of course, they must be acutely aware of the way that Affirmative Action and legacy admissions  discriminate against Triad students. While one might see this as an opportunity to recruit them to conservatism, I suspect in many it has the opposite effect, almost a Stockholm Syndrome: sincerely parrot the Brahmin pieties and perhaps you can get in based on arbitrary sympathy.

    Of course, leftist piety also reigns in the two most profitable fields of private endeavor that STEM grads of Triad heritage might consider: Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Protective coloration is self-preservation for a vulnerable population.

  17. ChrisnGreta

    Yesterday I got the chance to pose this question to two Chinese friends who have been in the country for 7 and 18 years, respectively.  They are both conservative evangelical Christians who have studied at American universities.  They agreed that Asians tend to value higher education above nearly anything else, and perceive the Democrats as the better educated party, and the party more in favor of funding higher education.  I think it’s partly a matter of pride, and partly a genuine belief in the promise of what education can do for both an individual and the country as a whole.  

  18. Ursula Hennessey
    C
    Sumomitch: Both the post by Sophist and this one by Yoo are fascinating. 

    Agreed. I wonder if either could comment on whether native-language media, distributed and possibly published here in the US, might have any influence. In other words, is there, say, a Chinese or Korean or Japanese-language newspaper that is especially popular here? Would it cover the relevant issues in the US, as they related to the population it serves? Would the editorials have a Democratic bent? Would they have influence over their readers’ voting choices?

  19. Jamie Irons

    Dear Mr. Yoo,

    Please, please run for mayor of Oakland.

    As the chief of a large department at Kaiser (in Napa and Solano counties), six times a year I have to spend a day in meetings at Kaiser’s Oakland HQ.

    The deterioration I have witnessed over the past decade in my visits to the city, and the sad state of so many inhabitants, is heart-breaking.

    Jamie Irons

  20. TheSophist

    I can comment directly on that Ursula, since one of my favorite jobs before college was working at the largest Korean-language daily in NYC.

    The answer is that the politics of Korean-Americans are fairly pro-central government. There is no long history of democracy and ideals of individual liberty are… well, Western ideals. The President for Koreans is a stand-in for the King, and the notions of loyalty to the President often reflect remnants of feudal culture that most would be familiar with from Japanese samurai movies. So quite a lot of the content would be, well, socialist. At minimum, mildly collectivist.

    But… the older generation who read Korean-language newspapers don’t trend Democrat. They’re quite conservative socially, and have no use for welfare schemes.

    It’s the younger, American-born or American-educated that do. It is absolutely because of college, especially the elite colleges, that set us on that path. Combined with the collectivist cultural background we all have, it’s hard to escape it.

    And the dominant culture of the US is Left, at least in the urban areas where we concentrate.