Asian-Americans Are Moving to the Left

by Steve Sailer

UPI, November 12, 2000


Despite the Bush campaign's emphasis upon "diversity" and "inclusion," Republicans lost badly among the fast-growing Asian American community in the 2000 elections. The Los Angeles Times national exit poll found Gore beating Bush 62% to 37% among Asians. The Voter News Service exit poll showed a narrower but still resounding margin for Gore of 55% to 41%.

The disparity stems from exit polls having a higher margin of error for Asians than for the nation as a whole. This is due to smaller sample sizes and the difficulties of interviewing all the members of a group that speaks a wide variety of languages. Don Nakanishi, Director of the Asian American Studies program at UCLA, noted, "In 2000, the Asian American vote became even more Democratic than in previous elections."

In California, where three of every eight Asian Americans live, the Asian vote contributed to another disastrous election night for the GOP. The LA Times poll reported that Californian Asians voted 63% to 33% for Bush over Gore. The Voter News Service poll claimed California Asians split their vote almost evenly between Bush and Gore, but that is out of line with other polls and seems improbable. As Nakanishi argues: "The LA Times exit poll is more sensitive to the difficulties inherent in surveying ethnically diverse voters."

Two regional polls confirm the LA Times' finding of a big Democratic advantage among California's burgeoning Asian population, which grew 47% over the last decade. Exit surveys conducted in Southern California by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center found Gore winning among Asians 62% to 35%. In San Francisco, the Chinese American Voter Education Committee found that Chinese Americans in that liberal city voted 82% to 16% for Gore.

Asians now make up as large a fraction of California voters (6%) as African Americans do. Asians, however, comprise 12% of all voting-aged Californians, so their share of the electorate will rise sharply as more become citizens. In the state that launched Republicans Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to the White House, Gore beat Bush 54% to 41% among all voters. Incumbent Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein cruised to a 56% to 36% win over Republican Tom Campbell. (The Los Angeles Times Poll listed Asians as voting 64% to 33% for the Democrat.) And, in an election year when few seats in the House of Representatives changed hands in the rest of the country, the GOP appears to have lost five seats in the Golden State. The Democrats expect to dominate California's next Congressional delegation 32 to 20.

These figures bear upon an internal GOP debate. Many Republicans have denied that the current relatively high rate of immigration will benefit the Democrats in the long run. While they concede that it will be a generation or more before the GOP can routinely win at least half of the Hispanic vote, they portray the much more affluent Asian community as natural Republicans. Indeed, in the Eighties, the Asian vote did become more conservative.

Since then, however, Asian Americans have moved sharply left. Even when the California Republicans nominated State Treasurer Matt Fong to run against liberal Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer in 1998, this young Chinese-American failed to gain a clear majority among Asian Americans. (One exit polled showed him carrying 52% of the Asian vote, another showed him with only 45%.) Various explanations have been offered for why Asian Americans are turning out politically to resemble Jewish Americans. (The neo-conservative social critic Irving Kristol famously noted, "Jews live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.")

The conventional wisdom is that former California governor Republican Pete Wilson's 1994 support of Proposition 187, an initiative to cut off government services to illegal aliens, has permanently alienated minority groups from the Republican Party.

While this theory may well be true for Latinos, the evidence that it also applies to Asians is surprisingly scarce. First, according to one exit poll, 47% of California's Asians voted for Prop. 187. Second, if the California Governor's support of a California initiative was the cause, then Asians in the rest of the country should be less hostile to Republicans. The national exit polls did not find that to be true in 2000. Both found a larger gap between Asians and in the other 49 states than in California.

Third, Republicans were hardly alone in being anti-immigration back during the recession of the early to mid Nineties. California's Democratic Senator Feinstein, for example, was significantly more anti-immigration then than George W. Bush was, who opposed Prop. 187 in 1994. Feinstein called for major cutbacks in immigration in 1994, and did not come out against Prop. 187 until two weeks before the election.

Feinstein's Republican opponent in 2000, Rep. Tom Campbell, ran to her left on immigration. Campbell repeatedly denounced Feinstein as "anti-immigrant" and proclaimed he was more in favor of immigration than she was. Nonetheless, Feinstein beat him almost two to one among Asians.

Probably more significant on the national stage were the events of 1996. The Republican Congress passed a law denying noncitizens access to food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and federal cash support for the poor, elderly, and disabled. While Asian immigrants as whole are no more likely to be on the public dole than the native born population, some Asian immigrants wish to bring over their elderly parents and have them subsidized by the taxpayers.

Also, in the 1996 Presidential campaign, Democratic operatives showed respect for the rising financial clout of East Asia by accepting legally dubious campaign donations from the head of Chinese military intelligence, an Indonesian billionaire, and Buddhist monks. Many in the Asian-American community viewed Republican protests as motivated by white racist fears of Asia's new economic might.

Since then, the Clinton Administration's harassment of Los Alamos physicist Wen Ho Lee has apparently redounded to the Democrats' favor. Asian-Americans seem to perceive, probably correctly, that Republicans worry more than Democrats about China stealing America's nuclear weapons secrets and that this would make them more likely to tolerate "racial profiling" of ethnic Chinese scientists.

Yet, these political machinations are probably inadequate to explain what now appears to be a long-term trend among Asian Americans toward the Democrats. Observers pointed to several trends that are more fundamental.

First, demographic analyst Arthur Hu suggested that voting patterns show that Asian Americans traditionally vote slightly more conservatively than their neighbors do - exactly as optimistic Republicans assume. The problem for the GOP, however, is that Asians tend to have highly liberal neighbors. Currently, 45% of all Asian-born immigrants live in three heavily Democratic metropolitan areas: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City.

And their neighbors are only likely to get more liberal. America's Pacific and Atlantic coasts are increasingly populated by both immigrants and liberal natives with post-graduate degrees who place a high value on such benefits of diversity as Asian restaurants. In reaction, conservative whites have been emigrating inland. California's Republicans have been heading either for the interior sections of the state or for places like Utah and Idaho. The climate of opinion in the parts of the nation where Asians cluster is thus becoming still more liberal, so it's no surprise that Asians are increasingly absorbing the Democratic tendencies around them.

Elite universities intensify this process. Former Clinton speechwriter Eric Liu wrote, "College is supposed to be where Americans of Asian descent become Asian Americans, where the consciousness is awakened." Because of their superior test scores and strong grade point averages, a higher proportion of Asian Americans attend top colleges than any other group apart from Jewish Americans. Granted, the Asian students at Harvard and Berkeley tend to be more conservative than is the norm at those liberal institutions, but being conservative by Berkeley standards is like being one of the taller midgets in Munchkinland.

Novelist John Derbyshire, whose father-in-law is a member of the Chinese Communist Party, remarked, "Asian American freshmen may be particularly susceptible to campus radicalization. Youngsters from Asian families often have parents with little connection with American political life. In many cases, they do not have good enough English to even understand it. So Asian-American youngsters, who spent their high school careers accumulating stellar grades in math and science, come relatively innocent to the professional multicultural evangelists in the universities."

Second, Nakanishi noted that Asian immigrants tend to vote for whichever party has been in power. With Reagan and Bush running the country, they moved right. With Clinton in charge, they moved left.

Whether Bush or Gore eventually wins in 2000, Democrats will likely rule California for years, and this will have an impact on Asian-Americans American history shows that immigrant groups whose interest in politics is less ideological than pragmatic can profit by voting as a bloc for the locally dominant party. Irish immigrants provide a classic example of the advantages of ethnic solidarity in the voting booth. Even today, for example, Republicans usually win only about 4% of the vote in Chicago mayoral elections. Why? Because only the most ideologically conservative citizen risks alienating the Democratic machine by registering as a Republican.

Some Chinese-Americans activists have started the "80-20 Initiative." This movement's goal is to persuade first the Chinese, then all the Asian Americans to vote 80% for the Democrats. They explained their logic this way: "To politicians, paying attention to a small constituent group that votes roughly 50-50 is like entering a small business deal with a puny margin of profit. On the other hand, courting a small immigrant group capable of delivering 80-20 is like chasing a small business deal with a huge profit margin of 60%."

The coastal regions of California may be nearing the tipping point that Hawaii reached around 1960. In Hawaii, the Democratic machine relies on the 62% of Hawaiians who are Asian to maintain a steady lock on power. Currently, in Hawaii all major elected officials and 23 of the 25 State Senators are Democrats. Similarly, registering Republican is making less and less sense for a Californian with political ambitions. This lack of new Republican talent will in turn contribute to the continued downward spiral of the GOP along the Pacific coast.

A third set of reasons that Asian Americans vote more Democratic than their income would suggest are a variety of frustrations experienced by Asian American males that are little understood by the rest of the country. Nakanishi pointed to the "glass ceiling." Asian American engineers with superb technical talents are often passed over for managerial jobs. Nakanishi believes that "prejudice and discrimination" are to blame. Other observers, however, point less to pure racial hostility and more to the likelihood that corporations favor traits like glibness and tallness in their managers.

 Even less publicized is what bitter young Asian men call the "dating disparity." Asian women are much more likely to go out with white men than white women are to date Asian men. This translates into a sizable marriage gap: in the 1990 Census, there were 2.54 white male-Asian female married couples for each Asian male-white female couple. (The gap in black-white marriages is the mirror image: black males are 2.54 times more likely than black females to be married to whites.)

 Hu, an American-born Chinese, attributed this pattern in part to physical differences in sexual attractiveness. "Asian guys don't have chest hair, and Asian immigrants are on the average smaller than other Americans. This isn't so great for guys, but the Asian girls come out like champs, making other American women look like iron-pumping feminist man-eating Amazons by comparison."

 Whatever, the cause, this marriage gap leads to a lot of lonely Asian bachelors. In 1990, for every seven Asian women who were married, there were only six Asian men who were married.

 Both of these race-based frustrations make Asian men more susceptible to the Democrats' politics of ethnic resentment.

Fourth, Nakanishi notes: "For many Asian ethnic groups, anti-Communism is fading in relevance, especially for the young." Vietnamese refugees long opposed Congressional Democrats for condemning South Vietnam to communist conquest by voting to cut off aid when North Vietnam launched an enormous armored invasion in 1975. A quarter of a century has past, however. And whereas the majority of Chinese immigrants once came from the anti-communist bastions of Taiwan and Hong Kong, many younger immigrants were educated in Communist China.

In summary, these long-term trends suggest that no matter what tactical steps Republicans might take, they are likely to lose among Asian Americans for years to come.

Steve Sailer ( is a columnist for and the film critic for The American Conservative.

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