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Asian voters are much more Democratic than they were before

Just another trend to keep in mind.

Much like Cubans in Miami, the nation’s nearly 2 million Vietnamese-Americans, including about 110,000 in the Houston metro area, have long been regarded as a shoe-in for the GOP. Stridently anti-communist, they were seen as socially conservative and favoring little government intervention. In 1992, the year La voted for the first time, Asian-Americans as a whole supported President George H.W. Bush by a 22-point margin, according to exit polls.

Two decades later, the country’s fastest-growing minority group has undergone a stunning flip, voting Democratic by 47 points in 2012. Last month, 55 percent of Asians said they would support Clinton compared to just 14 percent who would vote for Trump, according to a National Asian American Survey of about 2,300 Asian-American registered voters. In solidly red Texas, home to the nation’s largest Vietnamese population after California, that gap is even wider, 61 percent compared to 12 percent.

It’s the most rapid political realignment of any racial or ethnic group in the country, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, who directs the survey and is associate dean of public policy at the University of California at Riverside.

Some of the shift is prescribed to the natural evolution of political affiliations as immigrants have children, become more integrated and politically sophisticated and move away from single-issue voting. But Ramakrishnan sees another unifying thread among Asians over the past 15 years.

“Since 9/11, the Republican Party has transformed pretty significantly and there’s been a rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric,” he said. “That’s turned off a lot of Asian-American voters. They don’t see a party that is welcoming anymore.”


Immigration has never been a top issue for Asian-American voters, who are much more likely than Latinos to come here legally on professional work visas or as refugees. The settlement of nearly 800,000 Vietnamese between the 1975 fall of Saigon and 2013 is probably the most expansive mass repatriation in American history.

Instead, Asians consistently rank the economy, education and health care as their top three issues. But immigration holds a close place in their hearts. A 2014 AAPI Data survey of Asian-American registered voters found that 41 percent would consider switching their support away from a candidate who expresses strong anti-immigrant views, Ramakrishnan said.

“They’re not just paying attention to whether or not a candidate is speaking ill of their particular community,” he said. “They care about how welcoming these parties are.”

Across Harris County, there’s been about a 25 percent increase in Chinese and Vietnamese voter registrations since 2012, said Cecil Fong, president of OCA-Greater Houston, a national Asian advocacy group.

Jannette Diep, executive director of the Houston chapter of Boat People SOS, a Vietnamese advocacy group, said the spike in registration and citizenship applications is largely because of candidates’ comments on immigration.

“A lot of the comments are very different from previous elections,” she said. “There is an aroused interest.”

Unlike the Hispanic electorate, which shares a common language and similar cultural traditions regardless of which country they come from, Asian voters are incredibly diverse. Chinese and Vietnamese tend to be heavily Republican, bound by a shared hatred of communism, while South Asians such as Indians lean Democratic. Koreans are very religious, many of them evangelical Christian, and socially conservative.

But new data from the National Asian American Survey shows that support for Democrats in 2016 has increased significantly among nearly every Asian ethnic group since 2012, as much as 28 percentage points among Filipinos and 20 percentage points for Vietnamese. A strong majority of registered voters in seven of the top eight Asian ethnic groups now identify as Democrats. The lone exception is the Vietnamese, who support Democrats by 45 percent and Republicans by 29 percent.

“One of the big things that has changed that has been very visible in this election cycle is the anti-immigrant sentiment,” said state Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat and Chinese-American who represents the Gulfton area. “The Asian-American community is very sensitive to that. Even though the community as a whole may be very quiet about it publicly, internally this is something most Asian-Americans have experience with.”

You can see all the reports here, with a summary of the most recent survey here. They thoughtfully broke the data down not just by nationality but also by a few key states with high Asian American populations, which includes Texas. In Texas, Asians identify as Democrats over Republicans by a 47-17 margin without leaners (57-25 with), and support Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump 61-12. They’re also notably progressive on a range of social issues. Definitely something to keep an eye on going forward.

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