As the US presidential elections approach, and surveys show that it is too early to call it one way or the other, a key group that will influence, and in a close race even determine, who - Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump -- ends up in the White House in January are Asian-Americans. So, how are they likely to vote this time?
In 1992, the first year that Asian-Americans were polled as an ethnic group, they had favoured President George H.W. Bush's re-election bid, with 55 percent of them voting for the Republican candidate. But it was Bill Clinton, with 31 percent Asian-American vote, that won that election. Since then, through Clinton's two terms and Barack Obama's two terms, Asian- Americans, and minority voters in general, have continued to flock to the Democratic Party, although the Republican Party did manage to do well among Asian-Americans in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This November, they are again going to vote Democratic, and they may just help propel Hillary Clinton into the Oval Office.
A 2012 exit poll revealed that Barack Obama won 73 percent of the Asian-American vote, a level of support only exceeded by African-Americans. What's more, from July 2014 to July 2015, the Asian-American population grew by 3.4 percent, compared to 2.2 percent Latino population growth. Over the last 20 years, however, the Republican Party has embraced a message that has alienated the largest growing ethnic group in America.
Research and analysis by Karthick Ramakrishnan, the director of AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) Data and the National Asian-American Survey, suggests reasons why Asians have shifted to the Democratic Party so strongly in just a couple of decades. An emphasis on "family values" and the anti-communist sentiment of Vietnamese and Indian-American voters were just some of the factors that might have been at play when Asian-Americans voted Republican in the 20th century. However, the trend changed rapidly as Republicans adopted what Ramakrishnan calls "exclusionary rhetoric."
While Bill Clinton won only 31 percent of the Asian vote in 1992, Al Gore won 55 percent of that group in 2000. John Kerry stayed steady at 56 percent four years later, but Obama was able to win 62 percent of the vote in 2008 and increased that vote share by a further 11 points in just four years, winning 73 percent of the vote in 2012.
This kind of rapid realignment between groups has only been seen in a couple cases previously: the shift of the African-American vote from Republican to Democratic over the course of a few decades following the passage of the New Deal in the 1930s; and the shift of southern whites from Democratic to Republican after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960s.
In both cases, those two groups were motivated to shift allegiance more by the political parties they once voted for adopting views they were strongly opposed to, than by the other party adopting views they found favourable.
Notably, Ramakrishnan's research in 2016 showed that 40 percent of Asian-Americans, including 37 percent of both Republicans and Independents, would vote against someone they agreed with on all other issues if they held anti-immigrant views. In a year when the Republican candidate is Donald Trump, this data point speaks for itself.
Also, 47 percent of all Asian-Americans cited healthcare as an "extremely" important issue, ahead of jobs and the economy. Asian-Americans favour the Affordable Care Act by a 28-point margin, and they are in favour of stricter gun laws by a 60-point margin. Indeed, 50 percent of older Asian-Americans (65+) cited gun control as an "extremely" important issue for them in the elections this year. Asian-American voters have taken note as Republicans carry water for the National Rifle Association and continue to advocate a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, while presenting no acceptable alternative, six years after its passage.
There are not many opportunities for Republicans to make inroads with Asian-Americans today. While they do not cite immigration as a top policy issue they care about, Asian-Americans do use a politician's views towards immigrants as a basic test of whether or not they can support them, in much the same way that young voters will tune out politicians they have determined to hold anti-gay views.
Until Republican politicians stop advocating policies like a ban on Muslims and start supporting policies like comprehensive immigration reform, there is little they can do to increase their vote share among this group of voters. Whether it is fair or not, the recent demonization of Khizr and Ghazala Khan-the parents of a slain Muslim-American solider-by Trump and some of his supporters served as the most recent evidence for Asians of the Republican Party's anti-immigrant views.
Asian-Americans make up 8.1 percent of the Voting Age Population (VAP) in Nevada, one of the few states where polls show a legitimate tie in the presidential and US Senate races. That is slightly higher than the eight percent African-American VAP in the state. Alienating portions of the electorate with bigotry and an embrace of unpopular policies is not a winning strategy. Republicans will learn that on November 8.
(Bharat Krishnan is a veteran Indian-American Democratic campaigner and author of Confessions of a Campaign Manager)