Asian Americans and the GOP

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Charles Murray argues, admittedly impressionistically, that the Republican party’s social conservatism is turning off Asian Americans.

Asians who became successful because everyone in the family worked two or three jobs (a common strategy behind Asian success) are likely to be offended by the liberal “You didn’t build that” mentality. Unlike every other minority group, Asians owe nothing to the Democrats for affirmative action. On the contrary, Asians are penalized by affirmative action, especially in the universities, where discrimination against Asian applicants (relative to their superb academic qualifications) has been documented in the technical literature.

And yet something has happened to define conservatism in the minds of Asians as deeply unattractive, despite all the reasons that should naturally lead them to vote for a party that is identified with liberty, opportunity to get ahead, and economic growth. I propose that the explanation is simple. Those are not the themes that define the Republican Party in the public mind. Republicans are seen by Asians—as they are by Latinos, blacks, and some large proportion of whites—as the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists. Factually, that’s ludicrously inaccurate. In the public mind, except among Republicans, that image is taken for reality.

I think Murray is painting with way too broad a brush here. I think it is true that Republicans are identified too exclusively with Christianity. Shikha Dalmia makes that case very plausibly with respect to Indian-Americans. But Murray ignores other factors that may (repeat may) explain Asian Americans’ Democratic leanings: most obviously immigration policy and a general perception of Republicans as the white man’s party, less obviously geographic patterns. (It used to be true that Asian Americans tended to settle in blue areas, and may still be.) I’d have to see a lot more evidence for Murray’s theory before accepting it; then again, he’s just the man to produce it.

Update: Billy Valentine of the Susan B. Anthony List points out on twitter that George W. Bush, running much more explicitly on social conservatism than Romney, won 44 percent of the Asian-American vote in 2004. Romney did 18 points worse. Hard to believe that antipathy to social conservatism explains a large portion of that shift.