Asian-Americans and the Politics of Fairness

The fastest-growing U.S. demographic group is highly educated, relatively affluent and, politically, increasingly Democratic.

That's Asian-Americans, who comprised 3 percent of this year's electorate, a share that will keep growing. They voted almost three to one for President Barack Obama, according to the exit poll. Yet unlike African Americans or Latinos, Asian Americans are more highly educated -- half have at least bachelor's degrees -- and are more affluent than whites.

Why then did they support the more liberal party?

James Lai, a professor of political science at Santa Clara University, offers several explanations for this trend in favor the Democrats in recent presidential contests.

Although polls show immigration isn't a top concern for Asian-Americans, he believes it may be a threshold test: Candidates who are seen as anti-immigration are disqualified from consideration. In 2010, Asian-Americans accounted for more than one-third of all new immigrants to the U.S.

Lai says he suspects that Mitt Romney's anti-China rhetoric during the campaign also may have affected some Chinese-Americans, who are the single largest Asian-American bloc, followed closely by Filipinos.

In addition, he says that many Asian-Americans identify more with the values of fairness and opportunity articulated by Obama in the election. "Most Asian-Americans identify with the middle class," says Lai, who has written a book on Asian-Americans and politics.  

He says it’s a mistake to stereotype Asian-Americans, who represent at least 25 different ethnicities, as a monolithic group.

The political influence of Asian-American voters is spreading geographically, no longer concentrated on the West Coast. States such as Virginia, North Carolina and Florida have growing populations that are flexing their muscle.

(Albert R. Hunt is Washington editor at Bloomberg News and a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

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