Why are Asian Americans Liberal? (Are They Even?)

Dear Korean,

According to polling data, Asian Americans tend to be more liberal on average than other minority groups. In fact they are the second most Democratic ethnic group in America according to this poll. The Gallup poll linked fails to give me any convincing reasons as to why Asian-Americans are liberal. In fact, Asians seem to fit the mold of a more conservative voter: they are wealthy, they tend to raise talented children with a strict upbringing, first generation immigrants tend to be more socially conservative, and most of them don't really care for an active, high taxing government. So why are Asian-Americans more likely to be liberal Democrats?

Right Wing Nut Job

'tis a season for politics in both U.S. and Korea, as both countries are gearing up for the presidential election at the end of this year. So let's talk some politics -- first, on the U.S. end.

Before we begin, full disclosure: the Korean is a Democrat, because he thinks the taxes are too low and the federal government is too small. (Seriously.) Take the following for what it's worth, which may not be a lot.

Right Wing Nut Job is exactly right that, in general, Asian Americans seem to have many, if not most, of the traditional characteristics of conservative-leaning Americans. Asian Americans have the highest household income among all races in America. They tend to value family relationship. Many Asian Americans are staunchly Christian (yours truly included,) and therefore tend to be on the more traditional side of many hot button cultural issues in American politics, such as same sex marriage. Finally, many Asian Americans are small business owners, who generally favor lower taxes and less regulations. So what's with the Gallup poll that shows Asian Americans being liberal?

There are two possibilities -- the Gallup Poll could be flawed, or there are real reasons why Asian Americans tend to be more liberal. The Korean thinks both scenarios are plausible. Let's address each in turn.

The Gallup Poll could be flawed, because surveying of Asian Americans is tricky for a number of reasons. Compared to, say, African Americans, Asian Americans are a very diverse group with very diverse historical experience. Asia is a big continent, covering all the way from the edge of Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean. The circumstances by which various Asian American groups arrive at America are markedly different as well. Indians who immigrate to the U.S. tend to be in the middle-class with white collar professions that requires advanced degrees. Cambodians and Laotians, in contrast, arrive at American shores as poorer working class.

Language barrier is also a significant factor when it comes to surveying Asian Americans. Compared to other ethnicities, Asian Americans are disproportionately comprised of first generation immigrants who are often not completely comfortable speaking English. When an English-speaking pollster calls, most such Asian Americans would simply hang up the phone.

But there are also real reasons why Asian Americans tend to be more liberal. The Korean cannot say for certain whether Asian Americans, overall, are more liberal. But he can say with relative confidence that Asian Americans who vote -- the subgroup of Asian Americans whose political opinion truly matters -- tend to lean strongly toward the left. And when we look at the demographic characteristics of this particular subgroup, it makes perfect sense that they tend to be more Democratic.

Asian Americans who are likely to vote tend to be young, because the older generation of Asian Americans tend to be disconnected from mainstream America because of language and cultural issues. Asian Americans also tend to live in large cities, where the jobs are. They are generally highly educated, frequently with post-graduate degrees. All of these characteristics tend to indicate a lean toward the Democratic Party.

One additional factor that particularly affects Asian American voters: they are immigrants and racial minorities. And -- whether these perceptions are fair or not -- there is no question as to which party is winning the hearts and minds of immigrants. (Hint: it's not the party that opposes a sensible immigration reform laws like the DREAM Act.)

Next up, an overview of the upcoming presidential election of Korea.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.