Asian-Americans Fastest-growing Racial Group and a Rising Political Constituency

UC Riverside political scientist co-authors book about the political behavior of the fastest-growing minority group in the United States

Karthick Ramakrishnan

Karthick Ramakrishnan

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Numbering more than 15 million, Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States and achieve higher levels of education and income than any other group. Yet they continue to be overlooked as a growing political constituency, according to Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside, who has co-authored a new book about Asian-American political behavior.

“Asian-American Political Participation: Emerging Constituents and Their Political Identities,” published this month by the Russell Sage Foundation, is based on data from the groundbreaking, multilingual 2008 National Asian-American Survey of more than 5,000 Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, and Japanese-Americans. Ramakrishnan and book co-authors Janelle Wong of the University of Southern California, Taeku Lee of UC Berkeley and Jane Junn of the University of Southern California conducted that study.

“There are a lot of assumptions made in the news media about how Asian-Americans vote, without any good survey data to provide support for anecdotal evidence,” Ramakrishnan said. “For instance, there was widespread speculation during the 2008 primaries that racial prejudice was a major factor that explained why Asian-Americans voted in such low numbers for Obama. We analyzed our survey data and found that racial considerations played a very minor role.”

The book also shows that, contrary to the fears of commentators, the involvement of Asian-Americans in home-country politics is not a drag on their involvement in U.S. civic or political life. “In fact, we find that people involved in their home countries are also more active in U.S. politics,” Ramakrishnan noted.

Between 2000 and 2010, the Asian-American population grew faster than any other racial group, at a rate of 46 percent, compared to a 10 percent growth rate for the overall U.S. population. They are also an important and growing political constituency, Ramakrishnan pointed out, as 600,000 new Asian-American voters entered the electorate in 2008.

“The importance of Asian-Americans is felt, not only nationally but also in various states and localities, including over-50 percent growth in such politically important states such as Florida and Texas,” he explained. “Today, more than 600 municipalities and a large number of Congressional Districts – 103 out of 435 – have Asian-American residents above the 5 percent threshold. Given the rapidly growing and changing Asian-American population, there is a pressing need to know about their policy preferences, political attitudes, and participation.”

Native-born Asians have higher rates of voting, making political contributions, contacting government officials, and working with others to solve a community problem than immigrant Asians, particularly recent adult arrivals who were socialized outside the United States, according to the authors. The exception is protest activity — which is higher among immigrants who maintain connections abroad.

Chinese Americans have significantly higher levels of educational attainment than Japanese Americans, but Japanese Americans are far more likely to vote and make political contributions. Vietnamese Americans, with the lowest levels of education and income, vote and engage in protest politics more than any other group, the authors found.

Political activity is strongly related to party identification, the researchers concluded. But, most Asian-Americans have not yet made up their mind on the parties, making them ripe for political outreach.
Among those who have made up their mind, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

“The very clear preference for the Democratic Party among party identifiers is something that isn’t well known,” Ramakrishnan said. “The high level of support for universal health care, even among Vietnamese Americans who are Republican identifiers, was surprising. Our survey shows that even those Asian-Americans who are very active in politics are not getting many requests to volunteer or donate by the main political parties and candidates. This is a missed opportunity for the political system.”

The Russell Sage Foundation is the principal American foundation devoted exclusively to research in the social sciences. Located in New York City, it is a research center, a funding source for studies by scholars at other academic and research institutions, and an active member of the nation’s social science community. The Foundation also publishes, under its own imprint, the books that derive from the work of its grantees and Visiting Scholars. It is best known for its support for research programs on low-wage work, social inequality, immigration, and behavioral economics.

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