Are Asian Americans Becoming Democrats?

Media Coverage | September 02, 2016

Speaking to New York City-based NTDTV, David Firestein examines the Asian American vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Here are some excerpts of the interview, which can be accessed fully here.

Q: There has been a major shift in the party preferences of Asian Americans. Is it about the candidates or are Asian Americans becoming Democrats?

A: I think there are three main factors that account for the shift. One of them, I think, is economic. All voters care about the state of the American economy, care about how they’re doing in the U.S. economy. I think one thing that’s happened since George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988 is that a lot of Americans have come to view the Democratic Party as the party that has been in power when average Americans have done the best, when they’ve had the best success economically and financially. A lot of people point to the eight years that Bill Clinton was president as an extraordinary period of economic growth. I think that over these years—rightly, wrongly, accurately, inaccurately, it’s a very subjective thing—a lot of voters, including Asian American voters have come to regard the Democratic Party as the party that delivers growth. If you compare that with the record of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, a lot of people have come to the assessment—notwithstanding some of the financial and economic difficulties in recent years—people just do better under Democratic presidents. I’m not judging that, but I think that’s one reason why people probably may have shifted their voting patterns in the way that you’ve described.

Another is, I think culturally the United States as a whole has  become somewhat more liberal on matters like gay marriage. So I can imagine that, probably 25 years ago, a generation ago, Asian American voters probably thought about social issues in more conservative terms and I think is probably the case today. And that trendline is pointed in the direction of the Democratic Party.

Finally and maybe most significantly, and this is speculation but it’s one interpretation I have for the shift that you mentioned. I think Asian Americans as, if you will, minority voters probably 25, 30 years ago, would have been hard for them to imagine, if you will, a fellow minority becoming the president of the United States. It had never happened before Barack Obama. I think there were some number of Asian Americans that felt a sense of excitement about that.

Q:  The favorability number for Hillary Clinton is higher than Donald Trump among Asian American voters. Why do you think Asian Americans like Hillary Clinton more?

A: I think we’re seeing the trendline in the race now where the numbers seem to be opening up for Hillary Clinton in a way that wasn’t even the case one or two months ago. I do think there has been a shift, I think we’re going to continue to see that shift. Again, my personal prediction is we’re going to see a majority, a growing majority of Americans opt for Hillary Clinton. It’s not that Hillary Clinton is seen as a flawless candidate by any means, but I think that people are looking at the two candidates and making a comparison. The numbers and the polls all seem to favor Hillary Clinton.

I don’t know if there’s a specific reason that Asian Americans, as distinct from Americans from other different backgrounds flocking increasingly, evidently, toward Hillary Clinton. But I do think there’s a sense that, of the two candidates, one has had, if you will, more qualifying experience, more relevant experience and a style of speaking and thinking about the issues that seems more appropriate for president. I think that is probably the overarching dynamic with respect to the Asian American community as well.

I also think that Asian Americans, in some cases many times removed from the immigrant experience and in some cases, very recent immigrants, look at the fact that Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and she accumulated a lot of experience dealing with the world, dealing with Asia. I suspect that‘s viewed as a positive thing as well.