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Why aren’t Asians Republicans? For one thing, more than half of them live in California, New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii

Conservative data cruncher Charles Murray asks, “Why aren’t Asians Republicans?”:

Asians are only half as likely to identify themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative” as whites, and less than half as likely to identify themselves as Republicans. . . . 70% of Asians voted for Barack Obama in the last presidential election.

Something’s wrong with this picture. . . . Everyday observation of Asians around the world reveal them to be conspicuously entrepreneurial, industrious, family-oriented, and self-reliant. If you’re looking for a natural Republican constituency, Asians should define “natural.” . . .

Asian immigrants overwhelmingly succeeded, another experience that tends to produce conservative immigrants. Beyond that, Asian minorities everywhere in the world, including America, tend to be underrepresented in politics—they’re more interested in getting ahead commercially or in non-political professions than in running for office or organizing advocacy groups. Lack of interest in politics ordinarily translates into a “just don’t bother us” attitude that trends conservative. . . .

A few years ago, I addressed neoconservative Norman Podhoretz’s argument that Jews should vote Republican:

A problem with Podhoretz’s argument is it proves too much. Why are Jews Democrats? Why is anyone a Democrat? Once you accept that conservative economic policies are good for growth, you’d think just about everyone would lean Republican on economic issues.

Murray’s argument is, unsurprisingly, more sophisticated and data-based than that offered by Podhoretz. In particular, Murray explicitly makes the economic argument that a financially successful person should want to vote Republican. From this perspective, Murray is not surprised that low or moderate-income Asians vote for Democrats but he’s surprised at the voting patterns of high-income Asians. Murray writes that Asians are more likely than whites to have “conservative-skewed professions” such as managers and engineers—but there’s a bit difference, politically, between being a manager or engineer in a tech company in California, as compared to the comparable position in an oil company in Texas.

As we discuss in Red State Blue State, it’s the higher-income voters who are more likely to vote based on social issues. Murray writes:

Republicans are seen by Asians–as they are by Latinos, blacks, and some large proportion of whites–as the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists. Factually, that’s ludicrously inaccurate. In the public mind, except among Republicans, that image is taken for reality.

I don’t know what Murray means by “except among Republicans.” Rick Santorum is a Republican, no? If he’s not a “Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationist,” who is?

And consider Marco Rubio, a prominent Republican who got into a bit of trouble recently for either admitting he does not believe in evolution, or going to a lot of trouble to deny he believes in evolution. According to this site (which I found by googling *Marco Rubio abortion*), Rubio “opposed Sotomayor nomination based on her Roe support.” Here he’s quoted as saying “‘America cannot truly fulfill its destiny unless’ it ends abortion.” Rubio also “supports amendment to prevent same sex marriage,” “supports banning homosexuals in the military,” and “opposes employment non-discrimination act.” Lots of Americans share these views and Rubio has every right to promote them—but “anti-gay, anti-abortion creationist” pretty much covers it.

To put it another way, most Republican voters are not “Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists,” but many prominent Republican leaders are.

Where do Asian voters live?

One way to understand the Asian vote is to ask where these voters live. It’s not in Alabama.

According to this site, the states with lots of Asians are mostly pretty liberal. Here are the 10 states with highest %Asian:

Hawaii
California
New Jersey
New York
Nevada
Washington
Maryland
Virginia
Alaska
Massachusetts

And after that comes Illinois. And within these states I assume the Asians are likely to live in or near big cities.

At the bottom of the list, at less than 1% Asian, you have solidly Republican Montana, West Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Mississippi.

California alone is big enough that its 13% Asian represent a large proportion of all the Asians in the country. (Here’s a quick calculation: California has 38 million people, so 13% Asian comes to 5 million. The U.S. has 312 million people, 4.8% Asian, thus a total of 15 million.) A third of Asians in America live in California. And a bunch of the rest live in New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii.

This doesn’t by itself explain why Obama got so much of the Asian vote—but it’s not a surprise that members of a minority group concentrated in urban areas on the Pacific coast and the Northeast are mostly voting for Democrats.

33 Comments

  1. pritesh says:

    Hint for the Republicans, not everyone votes based on marginal tax rates.

  2. Fernando says:

    Are you implying that, say, Asians randomly allocated to Los Angeles are more likely to vote Republican than those randomly allocated to Helena, Montana?

    Please elaborate. (E.g. I suppose its not latitude and longitude so much as social clustering and group think, or something like that.)

    • Dave says:

      In the real world, people’s residences are not determined by “random allocation”, but by patterns of chain migration, by employment, by familial and other social attachment, and by preferences for climate, culture, etc. But if you are thinking counterfactually, the question is perhaps approachable. In other words, if the same Asian individual who currently lives in California were to instead live (and have lived for a comparable time) in Montana, would their political orientation be different? And vice-versa for the actual Montana resident. We are then thinking about the influences of social networks and other ecological factors on voting behavior (or political ideology). But let’s not forget that in the real world causality goes both ways here – people might be influenced in their politics by their friends, but their politics might itself influence who they become friends with in the first place as well. Or where they move, for that matter.

  3. Burr Settles says:

    Just yesterday I posted a demographic analysis of the 2012 election:

    http://slackprop.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/demographics-and-the-2012-presidential-election/

    Both (1) percent of Asian residents and (2) percent of Asian-owned businesses are significantly associated with Obama, even after controlling for all the other demographic features (poverty, population density, economy, etc.).

    Andrew, I emailed you with a map showing the counties model sensitive to the model’s Asian demographic parameters, and most of them are in the states you listed… although there are some hot spots in Texas!

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Thanks. Very impressive analysis of county level voting’s correlation with Census metrics.

      Regarding Hispanic voting, in which you found that more Hispanic areas voted Republican while areas with more Hispanic business owners leaned Democratic. What happens is that Republican areas tend to be more favorable to low-end job creation (e.g., it’s easier to get a permit to put up a housing development in Texas than in Marin County or Silicon Valley). That jobs magnet brings low-skilled Hispanics into Republican areas.

      Over time, this influx plus their higher fertility brings Hispanics into demographic domination of an area, which boosts Democratic voting as they slowly acquire citizenship or their children reach voting age.

      But (leaving aside South Florida’s middle class Cuban refugee communities) growing Hispanic / Democratic dominance depresses economic dynamism. Outside of Florida, Hispanic entrepreneurs don’t create a lot of jobs and don’t push push the local economy into a higher level of higher paying jobs. The upper Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico would be an obvious example of where an ancient Hispanic community is economically stagnant. The lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas is another example of a poor, non-dynamic heavily Hispanic area with multi-generational entrenched poverty. Conversely, in liberal California, Hispanics are largely shut out of the two most elite economic engines: Silicon Valley and Hollywood (e.g., none of the last couple of thousand Oscar nominations from the late 1980s onward has gone to an American-raised Latino).

      The Inland Empire of Southern California is a classic example of a formerly Republican area that brought in huge numbers of Hispanics for construction and similar jobs, only to have it tilt increasingly Democratic due to Hispanic and other minority influx and have it economically collapse in 2007-2008 when large fractions of the newcomers proved unable to pay back their inflated mortgages.

  4. Boris Shor says:

    In my 5k respondent 2012 survey, Asians from the South are somewhat more conservative than Asians in the Northeast, for example. But the difference between non-Asians in these two regions is greater, about twice as much.

  5. I am an industrious highly-paid (over the top 1% threshold this year) earner living in a red state, and I vote for liberals. My motivation is simple: I want to live in a healthy and happy community. Paying taxes and sponsoring government programs is worth the cost to me.

    The fact that I’m based in a red state doesn’t cause me to be conservative, and I doubt that it’s a primary cause of Asian democratic voters. Possibly the causal relationship is the other way around…

    I’m not Asian, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. But it seems possible that Asian culture (emphasis on community etc) is a driver of Asian political leanings in the US. Maybe many of them simply want to live in a healthy and happy community (as I do) and are willing to give some of their own wealth to make that happen. And the fact that they’re concentrated in some states may contribute to those states’ blue-ness.

    The conservative analysts that assume the only rational vote is based on marginal tax rate, are suffering from shallow thinking.

    • Andrew says:

      Benson:

      To be fair to Murray, I don’t think he’s just talking about marginal tax rate. He’s talking more generally about business-friendly policies and policies that reward success.

      • Fair point – I’ve oversimplified too much. But feel free to substitute “business-friendly policies and policies that reward success” etc in my last sentence above, and the point remains. There are other drivers for voting Democratic, often just not acknowledged by conservative analysts.

    • Xi says:

      I am curious to know which red state you are in – the party affiliation of your governor, and the party breakdown of your state legislature. I want to know because I think putting one state in Red/Blue category only based on how they vote in the Presidential election is somewhat misleading.

      BTW, FWIW, I am an Asian living in a Blue leaning state with a Republican Governor, and I am consider myself a Conservative.

    • guest says:

      Benson,

      You live in St Louis, MO. According to the New York times: http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/results/president/map.html

      St. Louis County went for Obama in 2008 83.7% to 15.5%. I don’t think you’re quite the “un-influenced by their surroundings” rebel that you think you are.

      Since St. Louis is consistently ranked one of the most dangerous cities in America, a better strategy for anyone wanting to “live in a healthy and happy community” than voting for liberals would be to simply move. It would cost less and be more effective.

    • Xi, good points. For what it’s worth, personally I don’t like the “red/blue” categories because they’re too simplistic. Maybe I shouldn’t have even made the reference. But my point is that people primarily determine the “color” of the state, not the other way around. This view seems to be reinforced by your “BTW” comment.

      Guest, since 2008 I’ve lived in a few different places. Some of them are more liberal, some more conservative. (And I don’t currently live in St. Louis, but that’s not really the topic.) I don’t know where your “un-influenced” rebel quote comes from, but I didn’t say that. Clearly, people are influenced by their community and circumstances. But ultimately people vote for complex reasons that account for more than just economic goals, and I suspect their vote is far less influenced by their state’s “color” than by their personal philosophy etc.

  6. Xi says:

    Asian come in different shapes and sizes. There are refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and there are H1B techy type from China or Korea. Some are wealthy, some live in Chinatown rundown housing complex (by the way, still without power so many days after Hurricane Sandy.)

    And you probably need to revisit this after ten/twenty years. Right now, most of Asians (early immigrants) with voting power probably lean Democrats, but more and more of them, the highly skilled and highly trained ones who intent to gain citizenship and stay in this country might have a different idea especially after they have kids, and get a taste of Affirmative Action which discriminate Asian kids disproportionally.

  7. MikeM says:

    Charles Murray is very good at dealing with data. Unfortunately, he selects the data he chooses to look at from a particular perspective and in particular tends to generalize from aggregate data to individual behavior (as if he never has heard of Simpson’s paradox). From his first book (Beyond Probation) to this current blog post, he seems to ignore the provenance of the data, alternative hypotheses, and different ways of slicing the data in an attempt to promote his own agenda. He is personable, smart, and charming, but wears blinders when it comes to analyzing data.

  8. Nameless says:

    “To put it another way, most Republican voters are not Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists.”

    I disagree! Most Republican voters ARE, in fact, Bible-thumbing, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists.

    * 74% of 2012 Romney voters believe that same-sex marriage should be illegal in their state (source: CNN exit polls).
    * 64% of 2012 Romney voters attend church services at least once a month (ditto).
    * 60% of 2012 Romney voters believe that abortion should be illegal (ditto).
    * 58% of Republicans believe that God created humans in their present form in the last 10,000 years, and almost all others believe that God guided human evolution. (Gallup) Unfortunately, even among Democrats the option that “humans evolved and God had no part in process” was only favored by 19%. Like it or not, we live in a creationist country.

    Since these groups certainly have large overlaps, it’s entirely possible that the group of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists constitutes the plurality and possibly the majority of Republicans.

    • Andrew says:

      Nameless:

      The correlations are smaller than you might think. Multiply these probabilities together and I think you’ll get something smaller than 50%.

      • MikeM says:

        Andrew, what makes you believe they’re independent?

        • Andrew says:

          Not independent, it’s just the corrs are lower than you might think. If you multiply the appropriate marginal and conditional probabilities together, I think you’ll get something less than 0.5. I base this guess on what Delia Baldassarri and I found when studying the correlations of issue attitudes in our AJS paper.

          • Nameless says:

            Ok. There is this nice site with an interface to the General Social Survey database:

            http://sda.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/hsda?harcsda+gss10nw

            It takes some digging but much of the necessary information is there.

            Among self-identifying Republicans who attend church services at least once a month, 79% say that it should be illegal for a married woman to get an abortion simply because she does not want any more children, 79% say that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex are “always wrong” or “almost always wrong”, and 68% hold both positions.

            The only thing missing is creationism. It’s not specifically probed by GSS, but, for simplicity, we can define that intelligent design is a form of disguised creationism, and use exit polls. Based on the data on evolution views by church attendance, I estimate that around 96% of religious Romney voters are creationists. in the anti-gay/anti-abortion crowd, that might be 97%.

            Multiplying everything together, 0.64*0.68*0.97, I conclude that the share of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists in the Republican party is 42%. Not the majority, but by far the largest group among all 16 permutations.

            Among the core of the party (self-identified strong Republicans), the percentage of frequent churchgoers is several percentage points higher, let’s call it 70%. (Can’t use GSS data directly, because the set of voters and the set of GSS respondents are slightly different.) Among these, the anti-gay/anti-abortion percentage is 74%. 0.70*0.74*0.97=50%.

          • Nameless says:

            Also, in case someone takes issue with the definition that intelligent design = creationism, here’s GSS data on evolution.

            Among the set of bible-thumbing/anti-gay/anti-abortion Republicans (YEAR(2006-2010),PARTYID(5-6),ATTEND(4-8),ABNOMORE(2),HOMOSEX(1-2)), on the question “did human beings evolve from animals?”, 17.5% answer “yes” and 82.5% answer “no”.

  9. John Mashey says:

    To me, the real problem is that the term “conservative” may be meaningless:
    Does it mean:
    A.
    a) Subsidiarity: government that is as small and local as possible, but big and global as necessary?
    Likewise, encouraging free market with minimal red-tape, and a healthy business ecosystem, but recognizing that companies cannot themselves do everything, given different motivations, time horizons.

    b) Minimizing unnecessary foreign wars and military spending (which are certainly national choices, even if much spending is local)?

    c) Conserving for the future? Things like parks, environment, etc?

    d) Investing carefully in infrastructure, broad education, with mechanisms to allow capable students to rise?

    e) Investing in science and using its results to inform decisions?

    f) People who have skills, work hard and are usefully productive should have a chance to gain financial and other rewards, and pass at least some of that to their children?

    (For instance, somebody like George Shultz might fit that … even as he led fight to protect CA AB32 (climate) and gushes about how much he loves his Nissan Leaf.
    Past Rep Sherwood Boehlert(R-NY) certainly did, was always revered as a friend to science.
    A lot of Silicon Valley executives fit this, regardless of party affiliation, if any.)

    or does it mean:
    B.
    f) Eliminating any science from government that generates inconvenient results? Likewise *any* environmental laws.

    g) Strongly catering to companies that privatize profits and socialize losses, such as cigarette companies?
    (For instance, from the <a href="http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/"tobacco archives at UCSF, for the period available, 1991-2001, Grover Norquist’s ATR was the 2nd biggest thinktank recipient of funds from Philip Morris, after WLF, before CATO and CEI. For PM, ATR delivered “press releases, letters to COngress, media, position papers.’ See PDF @ Fakery 2…, pp.38-40. ATR is one of those 501(c)(3)-501(c)(4) pairings, so that one can get a tax-break when giving to the (c)(3), whose lobbying is of course limited by law. Now, I’m sure that ATR is only getting Republicans to sign The Pledge, given its philosophy of low taxes, totally unconnected with getting paid by tobacco. (search for Norquist in the archives.)

    h) Legislating sea level rise out of existence … and getting Federal money to rebuild houses.
    Or conservative Bobby Jindal’s barrier islands.

    i) Suppressing voting by groups unlikely to be supportive? (as opposed to thinking of policies that might attract them) and excluding as many people as possible who might compete, but not necessarily support them?

    j) Continuing the model for many human societies: a small number of people own a lot (royalty), supported by a class of nobility, above a large number of serfs and/or (not too long ago, slaves). The *last* thing anybody in the first two groups would want is meritocracy for the next generation, and education system that enables that, innovation that threatens established money and power.
    Historically, I’d guess the longest-running and most pervasive case would be the caste system in India, but it is interesting to Google: chinese princeling
    Of course, North Korea is a fine example.
    ===

    Try running down a list of politicians, parties and publications to compare what they say and what they actually do.
    (That is, it can be a superb tactic to be B., but claim A, to appeal to more people. Some actually might really mean A.
    Others might say “we’re for business … when what they mean is that we’re for a certain narrow set of rich, well-established businesses. Of course, the Liberal side has some analogs to this, albeit not symmetrically.)

    George W. Bush?
    Mitt Romney?
    Forbes? WSJ?
    The Economist? Bloomberg BusinessWeek?
    Arnold Schwarzenegger or Michael Bloomberg? (just to pick some fun cases, and compare business credentials of Bloomberg & Romney; I will note that Bloomberg, regardless of political label, would fit Silicon Valley pretty well (I talked to him years ago). To be fair, he got a BS EE, then MBA, a very common combination here.)

    If Republican Party ~ A, then Asians should be Republicans, but if Republicans ~ B, it would be unsurprising that Asians *in the US* are not so often Republicans, because in the US, they are not so much part of the establishment, although they have surely started a lot of Silicon Valley companies. (People ought to think why so many are *here*, not somewhere else. How did Cupertino, CA get to be Asian majority?)
    But note the distinction: that’s Asians *in the US*.

    I’d suggest a fundamental tension between:
    -Real meritocracy, which everyone claims to want, but for instance would imply uniform K-12 schools, and admission to college strictly by merit/achievement, with few “legacy” admissions. Societies vary widely in their actual execution of this. The UK has long attempted to get this effect.

    and
    – A legitimate desire to be rewarded for productive work and pass that along.

    That tension is easily seen in funding of K-12 schools, where everyone certainly believes in equal opportunity, but sensibly, try very hard to get their kids into the best school systems, given how much they vary in practice.

    a) If a society does not reward those who contribute more than they extract, people are not motivated to work hard and be productive. Some may want the rewards for themselves, but many others take risks and work very hard in poor conditions in hopes their children might have a better life. (Think about Mexicans picking vegetables in CA fields.) Needless to say, it’s hard to have societies that generate a lot of innovation if they suppress the possibility of reward from risk.

    b) From an individual family’s point of view, it is terrific goal to get so wealthy and powerful that even generations of total incompetents can still prosper. But that is often served by suppressing as much competition and innovation as possible. Also, wealth-extraction is a really attractive method (as opposed to wealth creation), and bending tax rules is also.

    Anyway, nobody should be surprised that Asians *in the US* might be A, but not B, so it matters which one the Republican Party really is. Still, I think the bare label “conservative” is not very useful.

  10. Phil says:

    Slate just published a rather non-insightful, no-data discussion of this issue. Here it is.

  11. John Mashey says:

    Well, this and this will really help change the image.

  12. dhiman says:

    I wonder why you don’t raise the issue of immigration. You may know better (as you have written a book) but the republican attitude towards people from “other” spaces (geographical, religious, physical features) are not very accommodating a corollary of conservatism or maybe self preservation. Note the list of states that you put up are near main seaports, where the history of immigration goes back for at least a century.

  13. Steve Sailer says:

    Arthur Hu’s Rule of Chinese-American Voting from back in the 1990s is that Chinese vote slightly more conservative than their white neighbors, but they have liberal white neighbors.

  14. Steve Sailer says:

    Also, I think the causality flows the opposite way, as well. I did a little regression study in 2000 on the vote by state and the effect on how whites voted based on the share of various minorities in the state was that Democrats tended to do better among whites in states where there are more Asians and worse where there are more blacks, with Hispanics in-between. A simple explanation might be that Democrats stake a lot of their credibility on the word “diversity,” and in places where diversity is represented by Asians, “diversity” sounds pretty good to whites.

  15. Xi says:

    With vast amount of exit poll data, has anyone tried to do a decision tree type of analysis? I remember seeing one for the 2008 democratic primary, and it is quite interesting.

  16. Hello,

    I am a first generation immigrant of Indian descent (assuming India is included in “Asians” – sometimes it is misused to mean Pacific rim countries only).
    You don’t seem to be looking at all the reasons why Asians seem to live in these states so I’ll supply som of the missing one’s.
    a) Liberal states appear more strongly correlated with greater social diversity, which is a huge factor.
    b) Diversity and tolerance for hand in hand so Asians are likely to feel less “the other” than in more homogeneous states – more correlated with Conservative voting states.
    c) Great universities largely in these more liberal states are a causal factor as many Asians first arrive as students – also great *secular* universities lead to more open discourse hence more tolerance and more liberalism. So this university as driver factor actually is quite important.
    d) Proximity to trade centers and large cities because that’s where the jobs are.
    e) Proximity to coasts and major airports because that’s how Asian immigrants enter the country.

    So looking at root causes would help understand first generation Asian immigration – driven by education and work.
    In my case I went to USC, in Los Angeles CA and the weather in Calif was most similar to Mumbai. So I never left.
    But warm as it is I would have been less likely to go to a univ in the South, both due to less tolerance and fewer great universities overall.

    Cheers,

    Nitin

  17. g_epid says:

    modest observation: the title of this post sounds like reverse causality. Just sayin’

  18. Wonks Anonymous says:

    Razib explained it as being all about whether they’re Christians or not:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/blog/2012/11/11/religion-determines-politics-for-asian-americans/
    The portion of asians who are Christian has dropped significantly since 1990, apparently due to immigration of different groups.

  19. Barry says:

    Andrew: “Murray’s argument is, unsurprisingly, more sophisticated and data-based than that offered by Podhoretz. In particular, Murray explicitly makes the economic argument that a financially successful person should want to vote Republican. “

    1) Um, this is Charles ‘The Bell Curve’ Murray you are talking about?

    2) Democratic policies are better for economic growth than GOP policies; that’s been true since at least FDR, and definitely true in the post-WWII era.

    3) If you’re not white and/or not right-wing evangelical/right-wing fundamentalist/right-wing Catholic/Mormon, the GOP is clearly not your party; I imagine that people who are not white get that message loud and clear.

    • Andrew says:

      Barry:

      1. Yes, Murray’s argument is more sophisticated and data-based than that offered by Podhoretz. Follow the link and read Podhoretz’s article if you don’t believe me.

      2. The conservative argument is that liberal economic policies might stimulate the economy in the short term but they have long-term costs. I don’t have the economic expertise to judge this claim, but it’s out there.

      3. Indeed, that’s what everyone is talking about.