The Corner

Why Aren’t Asians Republicans?

I’ve enjoyed the thought-provoking posts on why Asian Americans went for Obama in such large numbers — at 70 percent, more than any other ethnic group aside from African Americans. My AEI colleague Charles Murray makes some excellent points, as do Rob Long and Ricochet member TheSophist, who sounds like he was separated at birth from me.

In fact, having spent some time talking with Norman Podhoretz, author of the excellent Why are Jews Liberals?, on the National Review cruise, I’ve been inspired to write a book on Asians and politics. Taking off on Norman’s book, I may perhaps call it “Are Asians Liberals?”

To me, the similarities between Jews and Asians are compelling. Both have higher incomes and educational levels than the average American. Both hail from a number of different countries and often emigrated here with high amounts of human capital but low levels of material capital. Both come from cultures — despite the broad definition of Asian — that respect and prize scholarship and intellectuals. Both are discriminated against — unconstitutionally, in my view — in college and university admissions, and once, no doubt, in government hiring and contracting. Both prize family values and seem to be more religious than the average voter.

Both groups like Chinese food a lot.

These characteristics should attract both groups to the Republican party. I think the reason Jews and Asians, however, vote against their interests may be because both groups have been concentrated in cities. One of the big demographic differences in the election, of course, was how the cities went for Obama, while the rural areas and many of the suburbs went for Romney. Perhaps it is not just ethnicity, or class, although these no doubt have something to do with it. It may be because Asians, like Jews when they first emigrated, have congregated in cities, which are run by Democratic-party machines who may demand a certain level of “loyalty,” shall we say, to compete for city business or to deal with city licenses. To the extent Asians then seek to leave the cities through education and entering the professions, they move into other areas controlled by the Left.

But there is a big difference. Since Asians have come in large numbers so recently, starting in the mid-1960s, their political allegiances are not fixed. Jews today follow in the footsteps of Jews who were part of the original New Deal coalition, and have been a solid part of it ever since. Asians, however, are still in play as it were. There is no historical relationship between Asians and the Democratic party. And there are historical factors that exist for Asians but not Jews that may in fact lead them toward the GOP, such as their origins in countries that have fought Communism, their history of small business, their suspicion of big government (having often come from countries with authoritarian regimes), and so on. Asians often own small businesses and are disproportionately hurt by high taxes and overregulation. And there have been prominent Asian leaders in the Republican party — such as Elaine Chao, Bobby Jindal, and Nikki Haley — who have few, if any counterparts, in the Democratic party.

John Yoo is the Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

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