Academic journal article Asian American Policy Review

Asian American Immigrants as the New Electorate: Exploring Turnout and Registration of a Growing Community

Academic journal article Asian American Policy Review

Asian American Immigrants as the New Electorate: Exploring Turnout and Registration of a Growing Community

Article excerpt


Asian Americans are currently one of the fastest-growing racial minority groups in the United States. However, much of this growth is due to immigration: nearly 70 percent of adults are immigrants. Thus, Asian American political incorporation is directly related to the challenges associated with immigration and in ensuring the transition from immigrant to citizen adult and, then, to voter. This paper explores the potential consequences of immigration and naturalization on the Asian American political behavior. Applying DeSipio's (1996) model of new electorates, we disaggregate Asian American immigrants into three nonvoting categories: nonnaturalized immigrant adults, U.S. citizen adults not registered to vote, and registered voter adults who did not vote in the 2000 or 2004 election. Using Current Population Survey (CPS) data, we identify factors that differentiate these nonvoters from Asian Americans who voted, with particular attention to what distinguishes nonnaturalized adults from voters. We then supplement this analysis with survey data from the Pilot National Asian American Political Survey (PNAAPS) to estimate how Asian American partisanship patterns may evolve as a result of increased naturalization and voter turnout.


The competitive race between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary has led to new interest about the Asian American vote. Tight races in the key Democratic battleground states such as California, New York, and Washington have demonstrated how critical the Asian American vote can be for national elections. In the past, pundits have long hailed Asian Americans as model minorities in terms of education and finance, yet ironically, paid little attention to Asian American voting behavior. While they are critical voting groups in some states, Asian Americans make up a small share of the national electorate. But as national elections have become increasingly competitive, Americans recognize the importance of even small voting populations such as Asian Americans. Beyond election results, Asian American participation offers us a chance to understand how race and immigration influence political incorporation. As a community that is predominantly immigrant, culturally and linguistically diverse, and racialized as non-White minorities, the Asian American experience offers a complex lens through which we can understand electoral behavior.

Thus, a case study on Asian American politics helps us establish a new framework for examining immigrant political behavior more generally. Although Asian Americans have been in the United States since the late 18th century, the Asian American population today is overwhelmingly immigrant. According to the 2000 Census, nearly 70 percent of Asian American adults were born outside the United States. Although Latinos are more often the focus of immigration debates, it is Asian Americans who have seen the most dramatic changes resulting from the influx of new immigrants. Furthermore, contrary to the model minority stereotype, Asian Americans have, on average, attained high levels of socioeconomic status but participate at relatively lower rates than both Whites and Blacks. This poses a clear challenge to preexisting theories about political participation that have identified a positive relationship between socioeconomic status and electoral behavior. By pointing to the Asian American case, we can see that the interaction among immigration, race, and class have distinct effects on political behavior.

In this article, we use the Asian American case to further develop our understanding about immigrant political incorporation. Most studies that explore the political incorporation of new immigrant groups use a generational model that compares foreign-born voters with native-born voters (DeSipio 1996; Lien, Conway, and Wong 2004; Ramakrishnan 2005). However, largely due to data limitations, few scholars disaggregate the immigrant population by characteristics other than region of origin or generational status (Ramakrishnan 2005). …

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