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Opinion | Democrats Don’t Understand Asian American Voters

In the interview, Roe also said:

If you’re an Asian American family going to Thomas Jefferson School and they lower the standards to let more kids who aren’t in accelerated math into the best school in the country, that’s pretty important to you. Advanced math is a big dang thing. But it also is to the Republicans: Why would you not help and want your children to succeed and achieve?

This is the type of direct messaging that should work for a lot of Asian American voters. Forget about making some unified, antiracist edict that you hope will capture the entirety of a population made up of people who may not think of themselves as a “people” at all. Instead, focus on the things a specific population of Asian voters actually do care about and try to sound empathetic when you talk about them, even when you disagree. It’s not that complicated.

So, what’s the future of the Asian American vote?

Prior to the ’90s, Asian Americans were generally thought of as a reliable Republican voting bloc who supported Ronald Reagan-style economic policies. There was a lot of truth to this, but it also was belied by the fact that political participation was low in many Asian American communities. A more accurate statement would be: Asian Americans used to vote Republican, but a majority did not vote at all. Bill Clinton’s second presidential campaign was seen as the start of a shift toward the left, one that became more pronounced during the 2008 election, when Barack Obama captured an estimated 62 percent of the Asian American vote.

There are a lot of theories about why this happened, but most people agree that it has been because of some mix of outreach and a generational shift from immigrant parents, whose politics are shaped by their homelands, to their children, who are acculturated in the United States.

I want to focus here on the generational question because it stands to reason that if young Asian American voters are reliably liberal, then the Democrats will keep or possibly even expand their gains over the past 30 years. The idea is that bumps in the road like this year’s New York City mayoral election should be contextualized within a long-term trend toward the Democratic Party.

It still feels too early to tell what might happen 20 or even 10 years down the line with Asian American voters. A study released this summer by Tufts University found a surge of political participation among Asian American youth, many of whom did cite “racism” as one of their top priorities. But they still did not vote at the same rate (47 percent) as white youth (61 percent) and still cite a lack of outreach by political campaigns, which means that a lot of votes are still up for grabs.

More important, generational divides are not static or fixed in time. The children of immigrants who came to the United States in the ’70s and ’80s may very well now be voting Democratic, but nearly 60 percent of people of Asian descent in America are foreign-born. The politics of recent immigrants, especially those who live in enclaves like the ones who turned out for Sliwa, are still in flux, and there’s no guarantee that their children will follow the same pattern as earlier, second-generation Asian Americans.

This means that Democrats shouldn’t simply sit back and wait for the first generation to die out. There are new first generations arriving every day.

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