Why Are Asians So Democratic? The Respect Motive in Action
By Bryan Caplan
Republican critics of immigration often decry Hispanics’ lop-sided identification with the Democratic Party. Due to their low income, the story goes, Hispanics naturally prefer the party of Big Government. Since Hispanics will never vote Republican, Republicans’ only prudent response is to strive to keep them out of the country in the first place.
Only rarely, though, does anyone complaint about Asians’ partisan leanings. Yet the National Asian American Survey, the best data I could find on this topic, finds that Asians’ Democrat/Republican ratio is practically as high as Hispanics’. Survey says:
The Vietnamese aside, every single Asian nationality leans heavily Democratic. Who’s in the survey, you ask?
The NAAS includes adults in the United States who identify any family background from countries in Asia. Survey interviews were conducted in eight languages, including English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Japanese, and Hindi. While heavily immigrant, nearly two thirds of Asian Americans are citizens and more than half are eligible to vote. The registered voters in the sample included 784 of Indian origin, 748 Chinese, 521 Vietnamese, 406 Filipinos, 388 Korean, and 340 of Japanese origin.
Consider Indians. They are now the highest-income ethnicity in the country – and their Democrat/Republican ratio is roughly 4:1. Accusing them of voting Democratic out of crude self-interest is plainly absurd. In terms of values and family structure, moreover, Indians make most Americans look like a bunch of hippies. Why then do Indians vote like Hispanics?
I’m open to alternative stories, but I think my Respect Motive story fits the facts quite nicely. Indians vote Democratic because they correctly sense that Democrats respect them more. When the typical Republican see women in saris or statues of Ganesha, or hears about arranged marriages and great Indian restaurants, they react less positively than the typical Democrat does.
If Republicans object, “I respect Indians just as much as I respect anybody else,” they’re only proving my point. It’s a classic case of damning with faint praise. When a Democrat truthfully says, “I respect veterans just as much as I respect anybody else,” he is forfeiting the votes of veterans by failing to show respect. You win people over by credibly showing that you think they’re better than other people… though in politics as in Lake Wobegon, it’s OK for politicians to tell most people that they’re better than most people.
Does this mean that Republicans could capture the Indian vote with better public relations? Not quickly. If people feel like you don’t respect them, it usually takes years of steady admiration to change their minds. This is psychologically difficult – even humiliating – because you have to show respect to people before they’ll even consider respecting you. And as you struggle to win over your future friends, you face a severe coordination problem: Anyone currently on “your side” who expresses apathy or sarcasm toward your audience undercuts your efforts.
In the long-run, however, efforts to show more respect often pay off. That’s how Republicans won over conservative Catholics. That’s how Democrats won over women. And that’s how Republicans will win over whoever’s going to keep them from becoming the party of a dwindling white minority.