Jeb Bush, Asian-American votes, and the Charles Bingley Principle

The impulse of Republican politicians such as Jeb Bush to try rescue the party from the barbarians now running it is understandable. I might even find it laudable if the goals of the quasi-civilized Republicans were less thoroughly plutocratic.

And Bush is surely right to stress that the GOP’s catastrophic 2012 performance among Asian-Americans is a very, very bad prognostic; if the Republicans can’t win a highly family-oriented, educated, and affluent demographic that also happens to be rapidly growing in its share of the electorate, they’re going to be a world of hurt. (Note that the heavily Democratic tilt of the Asian vote – stronger than the Democratic tilt of the Latino vote last year – destroys the “moocher” theory so beloved of Mitt Romney and his fans.)

But what is it that has driven Asian-Americans – who favored GHWB over Dukakis in 1988 – away from the Republicans? Their current combination of SES profile and voting habits makes you (especially if you’re Jewish) think of Jews: who, it is said, combine the income level of Episcopalians with the electoral tastes of Puerto Ricans.

There’s no Asian-American equivalent of some of the forces that made Jews enthusiastic Democrats: the influx of Jewish social democrats after the 1848 revolutions in Europe and the impacts of Zionism (which used to be a socialist movement), the labor movement (especially the ILGWU) and the urban political machines. But there are important parallels: most Asian-Americans (except for Koreans and Philipinos) aren’t Christians; they’re historic targets of intolerance; and (again with exceptions) they share a Confucian tradition that puts as high a value on learning as the Talmudic tradition. So it’s possible that the religious and ethnic bigotry of the Republicans, even if not specifically directed at Asian-Americans, still scares them off. And Republican obscurantism may be the big deal-breaker; Ed Koch utterly stunned me by endorsing Obama in 2008, but that choice made more sense when he gave Sarah Palin’s history of book-banning as his reason.

I think these parallels might be worth pursuing with data. To the extent that I’m right, Jeb & Co. have a tough row to hoe: making the GOP more attractive to Asians would mean making it less attractive to its base (in both senses) voters.

When Caroline Bingley proposes that a ball featuring conversation rather than dancing would be a more rational entertainment, her brother Charles replies “Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball.” A Republican Party that could win Asian-American votes would be far more electable, but it would be far less like the Republican Party we know and hate.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

27 thoughts on “Jeb Bush, Asian-American votes, and the Charles Bingley Principle”

  1. Kleiman: “Note that the heavily Democratic tilt of the Asian vote – stronger than the Democratic tilt of the Latino vote last year – destroys the “moocher” theory so beloved of Mitt Romney and his fans.”

    As an (upper middle-class but decidedly not-rich) Asian-American, I’d go further: Mitt Romney and the rest of the obscenely rich mooch far far more from the federal government (through corporate welfare such as tax expenditures and subsidies) than people like me ever will. The chutzpah and entitlement that they display while doing said mooching only add insult to injury.

  2. To recast the Charles Bingley Principle in terms of the Yiddish proverb about the grandma with balls: “If the modern Republican Party were sane and humane, then it would be the Democratic Party.”

  3. My anecdote in this regard is from an appointment my partner had with a doctor after last year’s election. At some point during the appointment the conversation turned towards politics. She’s a doctor (hence well compensated), and is from South Asia (since she has the surname Singh I feel safe in making this statement), and said, “It’s really very simple. Republicans don’t like people with dark skin.”

    So long as the Republicans are viewed as the party of (nostalgic and intolerant) white Americans, they’re going to have a hell of a hard time getting the votes of non-white Americans, period.

  4. A Republican Party that could win Asian-American votes would be far more electable, but it would be far less like the Republican Party we know and hate.

    Someone has to win the votes of Dixiecrats. Dixiecrats hate people of the wrong color, dislike people of other religions, hate government spending unless it’s spent on them, and they’re big on bloc voting (so much so that they supported Adlai Stephenson) based on demanding group purity. Not mention they’re ridiculously hawkish.

    There are too many of them to be a courted but ignored minority.

    [‘Gonna land somewhere.’]

  5. I’m not sure that there is such as thing as the “Asian-American vote.” Vietnamese-Americans and Filipino-Americans still vote Republican. Japanese-Americans have been in this country a lot longer than my ancestors. Indians aren’t Confucian; Vietnamese are often Christian. Indian immigrants tend to be highly educated; less so for the median Chinese immigrant. And so forth.

    About the only thing that ties them together: they’re not white. Nixon was smart enough to grant full whiteness to Southern and Eastern European voters, and he configured his party accordingly. Modern Republicans are not that smart.

    1. Of course this is right; “Asian” is an even lamer category than “Latino.” But there has been a big swing across “Asian” subgroups, and it’s worth asking why. Color, religion, and attitudes toward science are all candidate explanations; no reason to think the mix of reasons is the same for Sri Lankans and Khmers.

      1. It would be interesting if someone could break down the figures for Christian v. non-Christian Asians. I wonder how much of the swing can be attributed to the increasing percentage of Asian-Americans who are non-Christian.

        1. The “Christian” label in US politics has been usurped by a bunch of reactionary Southern Evangelicals. Is that the kind of Christianity any Asian-Americans practice?

  6. Maybe Jews have remained loyal to the Dems because the in the party of Palin (i.e., of “real” Americans) they sniff the scent of anti-Semitism (Bill Kristol, et al. must be suffering from a head cold). As others here have said, Asians too may sense a racist aroma and haven’t yet been convinced that the GOP thinks they’re just as good as White people. But I also have always assumed that Jews resisted defecting from the Roosevelt coalition because of their commitment to social justice. Do Asians have a similar tradition?

  7. Here’s a theory, based on my conversations with Asian friends and acquaintances. The conservative movement and the GOP have prominent figures who are openly racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic or homophobic, but you’d have to look pretty hard to find anyone saying ugly things about Asians (with the exception of Muslim Asians, who are targeted because of their religion rather than their national origin). No prominent conservative that I’m aware of specializes in hostility to Asians, though there are plenty who specialize in one or more of the above-referenced phobias. Of course, one reason people specialize in the other phobias is that the targeted groups are asking for something, but Asian-Americans are not an organized interest group seeking a change in laws or even attitudes. They’re the very model of an ethnic group that’s trying to live the American dream with no request for “hand-outs” or “special treatment.” (I don’t think gays, Hispanics, Muslims or African-Americans are requesting hand-outs or special treatment – just justice – but conservatives most certainly do, and are willing to say so openly.)

    Thus, one might think – I did think – that Asians are not targets of racism. But that’s not the experience of my friends, who say that they hear racist comments all the time (or far too often). The kind of stuff that happens in Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” is not rare in their experience; indeed, it’s fairly common. In a way, it’s like a woman walking past a construction site, when you least expect it – or when you do expect it, but hope to sneak past without comment – someone pipes up with something ugly.

    Now, let me be clear, I don’t think this racism reflects the views of a significant number of conservatives. (Unfortunately, if only one out of a hundred people feels comfortable spewing something ugly, that adds up to quite a bit of hate if you’re the target.) If someone tells me he’s a Limbaugh fan, I might reasonably suspect that he’s hostile to the interests of African-Americans (as perceived by African-Americans, whose perceptions count for a lot more than movement conservatives can admit), but there’s not, it seems to me, a direct line between a trademark Limbaugh rant and hostility to Asians. But, even if there’s no direct line, someone on the receiving end of hostility based on appearance or different-ness, might well feel some solidarity with others similarly situated.

    Though movement conservatives contend the opposite with a straight face, someone who feels the sting of bigotry is not going to consider voting for the GOP because it’s the party that judges people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin or hair or their country of origin (however many generations they’re removed from that country). It could be that party – it arguably was that party in the past – but it’s not that party today. I hope it will be such a party in the future, but if not, then it won’t be a national party, which I guess is the next best thing.

  8. My thought is there’s an undisputed political dimension that should be disputed – governmental resource allocation for opportunity versus allocation for compassionate purposes. The former would favor spending on poor children, the latter on poor elderly.

    Republicans really could be, in theory, the party of opportunity, but instead they’re the party of small government, which makes the Democrats the party of both opportunity and compassion. And Republican bias toward the (mostly white) elderly makes it very hard for them to switch priorities.

    1. “…, but instead they’re the party of small government, …”

      They may say that, but, apparently, they don’t believe it. Federal spending has gone up under the last three Republican administrations.

  9. Apparently many people of different ethnicities know about Republican attitudes towards “people with dark I skin.” What I understand is why so many women vote Republican. The only thing I can figure out is that they never listen to/read/watch any media which reports regularly on the anti-women things Republicans say and do – not just in Washington, but in state-houses local governments and churches and blogs and general punditry. Even if we were once old-style moderate Republicans as I was, things have changed so much in the recent past that the entire party can’t pass my gag reflex.

    I was always proud of checking out candidates for every office and voting for the person rather than the party, but now I fear Republican majorities so much on every level that doing so just doesn’t seem prudent. Even when I have to hold my nose, I’ll either vote for a Democrat or nobody. It’s a shame that the wingnuts have managed to take over, even when they’re in the minority, and overrun any Republican moderation or desire to (gasp) actually help govern for the benefit of Americans.

  10. “but it would be far less like the Republican Party we know and hate.”

    But it would be the REAL Republican Party. The party of Ike and Gerald Ford, instead of the Tea Party, the Plutocrat Party, the party of MeMeMe, of NoNoNo.

    Sadly, I’m afraid I’m too old to see the return of the real Republican Party. It’s going to take a long time.

  11. I must here pipe up with the fact that up here in the Sacramento Valley, Republican officials have long been very friendly to the substantial local Sikh community. Maybe it’s because a lot of them are farmers, and thus real Americans even if they wear turbans, but they engage in surprisingly brazen ethnic politics (introducing resolutions declaring Sikh Appreciation Month and the like).

  12. As a Filipino American Republican from California, I have come to believe a major problem which causes many people to not take the Republican Party as a serious option is due to a branding problem. As shown by many commentors above, their is this view that the Republican Party is only made up of old rich White evangelical christian racists. This is a common stereotype which is often repeated in the main stream media and considered common knowledge in most social circles. However, having been to several GOP functions I can say that the Republican Party is far diverse than what the main stream media portrays. There are attendees from every manor of race and ethnicity, and most are not rich. In fact if we look at the representation of the D0 highest mediam income congressional districts one will find most are represented by Democrat politicians. So the rich=Republican are a false image. Moreover, when one looks at Wall Street political contributions, a majority of contributions from their segment of the population goes to the Democrat Party.

    1. I’m afraid that us pinkos are disjunctivists, not conjunctivists. We do tend to think that the Republican Party is made up of olds, richs, whites, Evangelical Christians, and racists. But the conjunction of these classes would not win an election anywhere, except maybe in a few country clubs. The olds aren’t all riches; the Evangelical Christians aren’t all racists, etc. We acknowledge that the Republicans contain many youngs, poors, non-Christians, and non-racists. I’m not sure that it contains many non-whites, although you certainly are an exception.

  13. It appears that crazy talk and agendas are not limited to one particular political party.

  14. I don’t think it is surprising that Asian Americans tend to not vote Republican. Basically, in most countries, immigrants and minorities tend to not vote for right-wing nationalist parties, for obvious reasons. And that is what the Republicans have become. People and media in the US like to pretend that nationalism mostly exists in other countries, where it is, often correctly, diagnosed as the root of all kinds of problems. But we have plenty of it in the US – we just don’t talk about it. Search for “american (or US) nationalism” in the NYT or Post – you will find they don’t use that term much but use it for all kinds of other countries.

    The more interesting question is why Asian Americans voted differently 25 years ago. My guess is it boils down to a changing ethnic mix and to the special case of (now mostly older) Taiwanese and Korean Americans who are more likely to respond to a strongly anti-communist message. But that group now makes up a much smaller percentage of Asian Americans.

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