The Democrats’ Coming Asian Voter Problem Has Arrived
It’s Definitely Not Just Hispanics Anymore
In January of 2022, I wrote a piece called “The Democrats’ Coming Asian Voter Problem”. I said the following:
The Democrats’ problems with Hispanic voters are, at this point, well-known and well-documented. But what of Asian voters, the other fast-growing part of the nonwhite population? A close look at political trends suggests that here too a problem could be emerging.
The Asian vote in 2020 was a relative bright spot for Democrats in that, unlike other components of the nonwhite vote, Democrats’ Presidential margins compared to 2016 suffered only a tiny decline (less than a point) compared to a 7 point decline among black voters and a 16 point decline among Hispanic voters (Catalist two party vote data). In addition, Asian turnout went up more than other racial groups including whites according to both the Census Bureau and Catalist.
Add in the fact that Asians are the fastest-growing racial group in the country and Democrats might have thought that, at least here, the nonwhite vote was an uncomplicated and burgeoning asset for them.
Alas for the Democrats, this was not to be. Their coming Asian voter problem has, in fact, arrived. Consider the following.
Even in 2020, there were signs of defection in congressional races in California and in other local races. Like Hispanics, Asian voters were concerned about public safety and rejected demands to defund the police. Asian voters in California, New York and Virginia were also upset by the Democrats' support for aggressive affirmative action policies that would be at their expense, since in gifted and talented high schools and in top-tier colleges, they were enrolled at percentages well above their percentage in the population and would be harmed by the imposition of the kind of quota systems Democrats were supporting. Partly in reaction to this, Asian neighborhoods in New York City swung by double digits toward Trump in 2020. In California, Asians, as well as Hispanics, played a large hand in the defeat of the affirmative action referendum, which lost by 57 to 43 percent.
In 2021 and 2022, Democrats also suffered from defections among Asian-American voters. In Virginia's 2021 gubernatorial contest, victorious Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin got 44 percent of Asian votes. In that year's New York mayoral contest, Republicans also improved over their 2017 performance by 14 points in heavily Asian precincts.
In 2022, Asian voter defection from the Democrats was more broad-based than in 2020. Nationwide the Democratic advantage among Asian voters declined 12 points relative to 2020. And there were abundant signs that Asian voters in many urban neighborhoods were slipping away from the Democrats. In New York City, the only precinct in Manhattan to vote for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin was in Chinatown. In Brooklyn and Queens, Zeldin outpaced Democrat Kathy Hochul in the heavily Chinese 47th and 49th Assembly Districts and 17th State Senate District in Brooklyn. Zeldin also won the 40th Assembly District based in Flushing, which is dominated by Chinese and Korean immigrants.
More detail on these defections has just been provided by a very detailed New York Times analysis of Asian voter shifts in the Zeldin-Hochul gubernatorial election. The analysis documents the widespread nature of these shifts toward the GOP:
From 2018 to 2022, the Republican share of the vote increased by 27 percentage points in the rapidly growing satellite Chinatowns in Brooklyn, the biggest change in any Asian neighborhood. In Flushing and Bayside in Queens, Republican support increased by 22 percentage points….
Republican support increased by 21 percentage points in eastern Queens’s stretch of South Asian neighborhoods. They include Richmond Hill, with its mostly Sikh and Indo-Caribbean population; Jamaica Hills, home to many Bangladeshi residents; and Bellerose, a large Malayali community.
Keep in mind that the decrease in the Democrats’ margin in these neighborhoods is roughly double the figures cited above, since increased Republican support generally means a similarly-sized decline in Democratic support.
David Leonhardt, working off of the new Times analysis, notes how seismic some of these changes were in 2022:
The Chinatown area of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was long a Democratic stronghold. The party’s candidates would often receive more than 70 percent of the vote there. Last year, however, the neighborhood underwent a political transformation.
Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor, managed to win Sunset Park’s Chinatown, receiving more votes than Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Why is this happening? In my view, the reasons are not mysterious. One huge factor is that Asians are worried about public safety and leery of a Democratic party that has become associated with “defund the police” and a soft approach to containing crime. This was obviously a very big deal in New York City, as well as many other places, in 2022.
Another important reason is that Asians, like Hispanics, are a constituency that does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and how it must be remade to cleanse it of intrinsic racism and white supremacy, a viewpoint increasingly identified with Democrats. They are far more interested in how they and their families can get ahead in actually-existing American society.
Which brings us to the key issue for many Asian voters: education. It is difficult to overestimate how important education is to Asian voters, who see it as the key tool for upward mobility—a tool that even the poorest Asian parents can take advantage of. But Democrats are becoming increasingly associated with an approach to schooling that seems anti-meritocratic, oriented away from standardized tests, gifted and talented programs and test-in elite schools—all areas where Asian children have excelled. In New York City, Democrat Bill de Blasio’s 2018 proposal to do away with the rigorous test that governed admission to the city’s elite high schools in the name of “equity” became a defining issue in the Asian community.
It does not seem mysterious that Asian voters might react negatively to this approach. In fact, it would be somewhat baffling if they didn’t. Yet Democrats do seem to have great difficulty admitting the nature of the problem they now face with burgeoning numbers of these voters.
Leonhardt provides an explanation for this that puts the Democrats’ problem in a broader context properly emphasizing the role of class:
Nationally, the rightward drift of Asian voters is connected to a new class divide in American politics. The Democratic Party, especially its liberal wing, has increasingly come to reflect the views of college-educated professionals. This development has had some benefits for Democrats, helping them win more suburban voters and flip Arizona and Georgia in recent elections.
To a growing number of working-class voters, however, the newly upscale version of the party has become less appealing. The trend has long been evident among white working-class voters, and many liberal analysts have claimed that it mostly reflects racial bigotry. But recent developments have weakened that argument. Class appears to be an important factor as well. Since 2018, more Asian and Latino voters have supported Republicans, and these voters appear to be disproportionately working-class.
Given the radicalism of today’s Republican Party, liberals had hoped that Asian and Latino voters would help usher in an era of Democratic dominance. And maybe that will happen one day. But it is not happening yet. Instead, Democrats’ struggles with Latino and Asian voters have helped Republicans solidify their hold on states where Democrats had hoped to start winning by now, like Texas, Florida and North Carolina.
To a growing number of working-class voters, the Democratic Party looks even more flawed than the alternative.
That’s the overall problem in a nutshell of which the Democrats’ current Asian voter problem is merely a subset. If Democrats do not face up to it, they might as well resign themselves to a political stalemate where they cannot beat the GOP decisively despite that party’s massive and glaring weaknesses.