The Democrats’ Coming Asian Voter Problem
It's Not Just Hispanics Anymore
The Democrats’ problems with Hispanic voters are, at this point, well-known and well-documented. But what of Asian voters, the other fast-growing part of the nonwhite population? A close look at political trends suggests that here too a problem could be emerging.
The Asian vote in 2020 was a relative bright spot for Democrats in that, unlike other components of the nonwhite vote, Democrats’ Presidential margins compared to 2016 suffered only a tiny decline (less than a point) compared to a 7 point decline among black voters and a 16 point decline among Hispanic voters (Catalist two party vote data). In addition, Asian turnout went up more than other racial groups including whites according to both the Census Bureau and Catalist.
Add in the fact that Asians are the fastest-growing racial group in the country and Democrats might have thought that, at least here, the nonwhite vote was an uncomplicated and burgeoning asset for them.
However, even in 2020 there were troubling signs of attrition in Asian support for Democrats. The Asian vote for Democratic Congressional candidates weakened in some key races, particularly in California. And in Presidential voting in New York City, the very fast-growing Asian population in Queens swung strongly toward Trump. Matthew Thomas on his substack analyzed the data:
Precincts where at least 50% of residents are Asian swung 12 points toward Trump, the second-largest shift among racial enclaves in Queens. Again, the movement was larger in areas that are even more homogenous: precincts where at least 75% of residents are Asian had a pro-Trump swing of 16 points, with over a third of voters now backing the Republican nominee.
Since 2020, the danger signs have increased significantly. Consider the following:
1. According to Pew, Biden has lost support twice as fast among Asian voters as among whites since July.
2. In the November mayoral election in New York, once again Asian voters performed poorly for the Democrat. Thomas:
In August, I reported that…Asian areas of Queens swung heavily toward Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election, powering the best performance by a Republican nominee in the World’s Borough since 2004. Precincts that are more than 75% Asian swung toward Trump by 16 points in 2020…[A]n analysis of [this November’s] returns in combination with demographic data from the 2020 census reveals that these patterns are trickling down to local elections too.
In 2017, Bill De Blasio won Queens precincts that are over 75% Asian by 34 points against Republican nominee Nicole Malliotakis. This week, [Eric] Adams won them by just 20 points over [Curtis] Sliwa: a 14-point swing toward Republicans.
3. In the November Virginia gubernatorial election, results from the AP-NORC VoteCast survey (more reliable than the highly flawed exit polls) indicated that Virginia’s heavily Asian “other race” category, which gave Biden a strong 19 point advantage in 2020, slipped to a mere 6 point advantage for Democrat Terry McAuliffe in 2021. Republican Glenn Youngkin carried 46 percent of these voters in his upset victory.
So what’s going on? Why are these voters slipping away from the Democrats? One problem is that Asians are worried about public safety and leery of a Democratic party that has become associated with “defund the police” and a soft approach to containing crime. Another is that Asians, like Hispanics, are a constituency that does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and how it must be remade to cleanse it of intrinsic racism and white supremacy, a viewpoint increasingly identified with Democrats. They are far more interested in how they and their families can get ahead in actually-existing American society.
Which brings us to the key issue for many Asian voters: education. It is difficult to overestimate how important education is to Asian voters, who see it as the key tool for upward mobility—a tool that even the poorest Asian parents can take advantage of. But Democrats are becoming increasingly associated with an approach to schooling that seems anti-meritocratic, oriented away from standardized tests, gifted and talented programs and test-in elite schools—all areas where Asian children have excelled.
It does not seem mysterious that Asian voters might react negatively to this approach. In fact, it would be mysterious if they didn’t. James Hohmann of the Washington Post captured the drawbacks of the current Democratic approach well in a recent column:
Efforts to lower academic standards and scale back educational opportunities in the name of racial equity are backfiring on liberals from coast to coast, including in the bluest big cities in America….Eliminating gifted and talented programs has become fashionable on the left, based on well-intentioned desires to close the achievement gap for African American and Latino students, but it’s alienating many parents — as well as graduates — who prospered under higher standards. Throwing less-prepared students into classes with motivated children forces teachers to reduce the rigor of lesson plans so that everyone can keep up….
The Virginia governor’s race shows the issue’s potency. While much has been made of Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin’s emphasis on critical race theory, the Republican also promised to fight against weakening standards for magnet schools. He said he would push for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a top-flight school in Fairfax County, to revert to a solely merit-based admission process. Last year, the local school board eliminated an entrance exam for the school and told reviewers to instead consider “experience factors,” such as a child’s socioeconomic background.
It seems obvious that where this approach will really kill Democrats is among Asian voters. One might wonder how the Democrats did not see this coming. And now they're starting to reap what they sowed. The results summarized above, barring a Democratic change of course, are likely just the beginning.