Trump Pushing Asian American Voters Into Democratic Camp

Donald Trump appears to be pushing voters from America's fastest growing minority group into the Democratic camp.

Latino Americans aren’t the only voting bloc that appears to be tilting leftward thanks to the emergence of Donald Trump, The New York Times reports that polling appears to show the still small but rapidly growing Asian-American community moving into the Democratic camp in response to Trump’s rhetoric:

LAS VEGAS — On paper at least, Asian-Americans seem like perfect Republicans. Many are small-business owners. Their communities tend to be more culturally conservative. And a lot of them, having fled oppressive Communist governments, found comfort in the Republican Party’s aggressive anti-Communist policies.

But in what could be a significant realignment of political allegiance, Asian-Americans are identifying as Democrats at a quicker pace than any other racial group. And many Republicans worry this election will only accelerate that trend, damaging their party for years to come with what is now the fastest-growing minority in the country.

The Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, is not helping. His attacks on the Chinese — which he has sometimes delivered in a crude, mocking accent — are a feature of his populist campaign. He has suggested cutting off immigration from the Philippines, citing fears that the longtime American ally poses the same national security threat as countries like Syria and Afghanistan.

Mr. Trump’s talk of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants has also stirred up painful memories among a group that has been singled out under American law before, whether by the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred the immigration of Chinese laborers until 1943, or by the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“It’s like we’re going back in time,” said Marc Matsuo of Las Vegas, who grew up in Hawaii with parents of Japanese ancestry and recalled how his family used to feel uncomfortable expressing their heritage, to the point they would not speak Japanese. He now helps register Asian-Americans to vote. “I was always brought up that you don’t talk about religion, you don’t talk about politics. Not anymore.”

Though Asian-Americans are still just 4 percent of the overall eligible voting population, their political power is concentrated in important swing states like Nevada and Virginia, where both parties have been building on their efforts to reach out.

In and around Las Vegas, home to one of the country’s largest Asian populations, this means printing campaign leaflets in Korean, having a Vietnamese translator on standby at speeches, publishing op-ed articles in the local Filipino newspaper and hiring employees who know enough Mandarin to recruit voters at the Chinatown seafood market.


Republicans’ difficulties with Asian-Americans are similar to those the party has faced with most minority groups. A sense that the party is hostile to immigrants and minorities has driven more Asian-American voters into the Democratic Party lately, political scientists and community leaders said. And if Republicans do not make more of an effort, those voting shifts could harden, just as Hispanics’ voting patterns have.

“What we see now are some early indications that people who either leaned toward the Democratic Party or did not identify with either party are now starting to identify as Democrats,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside. “This is still a group that is making up its mind,” he added, “but it should be concerning to the Republican Party that you’re starting to see this crystallization.”

A national survey in the spring by Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, a nonpartisan research group, showed “a significant leftward shift” since 2012 among Asian-American registered voters, with 47 percent now identifying with the Democratic Party, compared with 35 percent in 2012. Fifteen percent identified as Republican.

In 1992, the year national exit polls started reporting Asian-American sentiment, the group leaned Republican, supporting George Bush over Bill Clinton 55 percent to 31 percent. But by 2012, that had reversed. Asian-Americans overwhelmingly supported President Obama over Mitt Romney — 73 percent to 26 percent, almost the same margin by which Hispanics favored Mr. Obama.

A Pew Research Center report released last month showed that Asian-Americans have since 2008 embraced the Democratic Party at a faster rate than any other ethnic group.

Still, many Republicans believe that the damage is reversible and see Asian-Americans’ political identity as still very young and malleable. For example, among many Asian-Americans, there is a tendency to be less forgiving on illegal immigration, which is sometimes seen — unfairly or not — as an issue specific to Latinos.

With the exception of some areas where they have long been a large part of the population such as Hawaii and California, Asian-Americans have largely been a forgotten factor in American elections largely due to the fact that, for the most part, they represented a relatively small percentage of the voting age population to the point where even measuring their impact on elections was difficult due to the fact that sample sizes would be so small. That is increasingly no longer the case, though. Asian-Americans have replaced Latino Americans as the nation’s fastest growing minority group, in no small part because immigration from Asia has exploded in recent years while immigration from Latin America, and most especially Mexico, has slowed over the same period of time. While it will be some time before Asian-Americans even come close to having the influence of the Latino and African-American segments of the population, that influence will continue to grow over time, especially since statistics seem to indicate that Asian-American immigrants are more likely to seek permanent residence and, eventually, citizenship than Latino immigrants, many of whom come to the United States for what is often temporary employment. Additionally, the number of areas where Asian-Americans are becoming a force in politics has expanded beyond California to include areas such as Northern Virginia, which is home to vibrant and growing Vietnamese and Korean populations thanks in no small part to the fact that many people fleeing the wars in those countries in the past have settled. Because of this, a political party that ignores this growing segment of American politics does so at its peril.

The growing importance of Asian-Americans in politics is yet another reason why the presence of Donald Trump at the top of the ticket is such a potentially big problem for the Republican Party. His anti-immigrant rhetoric resonates quite strongly among voters whose immigrant experience is of quite recent vintage, for example, and, as noted, his calls for things like a ban on Muslim immigration bear a disturbing resemblance to the 19th Century laws that barred immigration from China for what were obviously racially biased reasons. Add into this the fact that polls in the past have shown that Asian-Americans are more likely to favor a more activist government, and the GOP’s problem is laid bare. Just as they’ve lost touch with African-Americans due to the desire to obtain political power by pursuing the white southern vote and with Latino-Americans by virtue of the party’s stand on immigration issues, they’re now in danger of losing the battle for the nation’s fastest growing minority group. If this trifecta comes to pass then the party will eventually end up paying the price at the ballot box. Perhaps then party leaders will understand the need for change, but by then it may be too late.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mu says:

    I’m sure Trump will reverse that trend by allowing unlimited immigration from Europe again. Well unlimited for blond, blue eyed Scandinavians. None of those near brown people from Spain, Italy and so on. Those we don’t need.

  2. Tony W says:

    I have a dream that all the Archie Bunkers will die off and Republicans will be left with nobody.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    Asian-Americans overwhelmingly supported President Obama over Mitt Romney — 73 percent to 26 percent, almost the same margin by which Hispanics favored Mr. Obama.

    By “almost the same” they mean more than. So it isn’t Trump that’s driven them to the Dems, it’s GOPs. At the risk of being a broken record, Trump isn’t the problem, Republicans are the problem.

  4. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Trump Pushing Asian American Voters Into Democratic Camp

    They will be in good company… They will be joining:

    * Hispanics
    * Women
    * College educated Caucasian men
    * African American men (and women)
    * LGBT

    And pretty well anyone else that has any capacity for reason.

    And, who does Trump have in his camp? This article was very enlightening (and sad):

    ‘Finally. Someone who thinks like me.’

  5. Franklin says:

    I live in a college town and the Asian contingent at my kids’ bus stops is easily the majority. So I tend to forget that they are such a small fraction overall.

    Anyway, yeah, the neighbors are all pretty smart and educated, it’s unlikely any of them are falling for Trump’s BS. And many of them are newer arrivals, so I don’t think they’ve internalized the quarter century of Republican attacks on the Clintons.

  6. Argon says:

    Hmmm. Asian person here.
    I’ve never voted for a Republican President candidate. Reagan, with his alliance of the religious ultra-conservatives, southern-strategists and science-denying, anti-environmental business wing interests was the end of the GOP for me. Trump is something I’ve feared but predicted since the the GOP gave up all pretense at governing for the general good in the past couple decades.

  7. Argon says:

    To add…
    Japanese Americans remember the internment camps. The modern GOP has always had a solid contingent that would be happy to do something similar again. With Trump, it’s become more than a dog-whistle issue.

  8. CSK says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    Thanks for the link to that article. It was absolutely riveting. Depressing, but riveting. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of it was that these poor schlubs, both of whom seem to have largely created their own hells, believe that Trump loves them.

  9. cian says:

    The growing importance of Asian-Americans in politics is yet another reason why the presence of Donald Trump at the top of the ticket is such a potentially big problem for the Republican Party.

    I love this. Doug still thinks the Republican party he once supported still exists. With Trump polling at close to 43% who does he think on his side is still holding out? Trump controls the base and he has done so by spouting racist, sexist, hate filled lies aimed at minorities, while the party’s leaders stand back and say nothing. Win or lose, post the election, the party will be his to do with as he chooses.

  10. Peacewood says:

    @Tony W: Fantasy.

    The Archie Bunkers and his fellow Boomers could die tomorrow and Trump would still be a force. The alt-right, the Red Pill Redditors, the Gamergaters — none of these people are Boomers. They’re practically all Millenials. And they have a lot of life yet to live.

  11. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Peacewood: Archie was no boomer, his daughter and son-in-law were boomers. As a boomer I think our leadership got lazy over the years and we have our share of bigots just like any generation; but, I think our biggest failure was dropping the baton and not finishing what we started.

  12. Franklin says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: Please tell me they don’t have any guns.

    Anyway, I guess it’s sadly amusing that the author found a mental patient who thinks (or at least thinks they think) like Trump. But it’s merely an anecdote.

  13. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Peacewood: ah yes…the “I deserve to have supermodels throwing themselves at my masculine Godliness, even though I’m an out-of-shape basement dweller living off Cheeto dust and sponging off my parents.”

  14. J-Dub says:

    My wife is of Asian heritage and a Boston Red Sox fan. I didn’t think she could hate anyone more than A-rod but Trump has proven me wrong, and by a lot.

    Go Orioles, the only thing orange I’ll be rooting for this month!

  15. CSK says:


    You are fortunate indeed to have such a perspicacious wife.

  16. Argon says:

    One additional note: Many of my family traditionally voted Republican because it was a Democrat, FDR, that signed the interment orders for Japanese Americans. This continued through the 1960’s but Democrats eventually saw more crossovers as the GOP increasingly pushed against civil rights legislation. The generation that faced internment is quite old now and the subsequent generations are much more likely to align with how the parties operate today.

  17. J-Dub says:

    @Argon: And the Democrats are the ones that are actually trying to prevent the Republicans from opening new internment camps for Muslims and people from South of the Border (not the fireworks stop between North and South Carolina).

  18. Andre Kenji says:

    I remember both Michelle Malkin and Thomas Sowell praising Internment Camps(Sowell account of Japanese immigration to Brazil is kinda offensive and inaccurate, .they have problems with Asians from both sides of the Equator Line.

  19. Argon says:

    @J-Dub: I agree. That’s why so many die-hard Republicans of my parents’ generation, who were in internment camps, have switched over to the Dems or gone independent over the years.

    The GOP likes to note that Republicans freed the slaves. This is true, but actual positions of the parties have largely swapped since the 60s. The GOP is the party of Goldwater and never managed to successfully purge the John Birchers. LBJ recognized that in signing civil rights legislation, the Democrats were going to lose the South by purging the racists. That took some guts.

    My father was very grateful when Bush gave a speech after 9-11 and specifically implored the country to not demonize or retaliate against native Muslims. I was too. But, the GOP has never been able to keep a lid on the nativists of their party. It seems the veneer of civilization, which is often just thin covering over most of humanity, is nearly worn through in much of today’s GOP.

  20. Kari Q says:


    Good point. For years, the Republican attitude towards Asians was “we think you’re the good minority.” The only people surprised that it didn’t work were Republicans.

  21. grumpy realist says:

    I wonder how many people are also turned off by the Republicans’ anti-science schtick?