Theme Panel: Race, Identity, and the Determinants of Asian American Political Behavior

Race, Identity, and the Determinants of Asian American Political Behavior

Co-sponsored by Division 32: Race, Ethnicity, and Politics
Full Paper Panel

(Chair) Natalie Masuoka, University of California, Los Angeles; (Discussant) Natalie Masuoka, University of California, Los Angeles; (Discussant) Tyler Thomas Reny, Claremont Graduate University

Session Description:
Asian Americans, the fastest-growing racial group in the US, are exerting a growing influence on American politics, urging scholars to examine their political behavior. In addition, the dramatic rise in anti-Asian hate amidst the COVID-19 pandemic calls for renewed attention to deep-seated anti-Asian racism and its long-term political consequences. This panel brings together scholars whose works explore the factors that shape Asian American political behavior, ethno-racial identities, and the political implications of growing anti-Asian sentiment in the United States. In her paper, Tanika Raychaudhuri analyzes the process of political learning among Asian Americans, experimentally testing whether Asian Americans develop partisan views through political endorsements from peer networks. Jennifer Wu empirically assesses the implications of local demographics for pan-Asian racial identity and the downstream consequences of racial identification for political behavior. In their co-authored paper, Jae Yeon Kim, Joan Cho, and D.G. Kim explore the political underpinnings of pan-Asian racial identity, testing whether Asian Americans’ views toward home country politics and shared marginalized status influence feelings of group consciousness. Finally, Nathan Kar Ming Chan and Vivien Leung explore the political consequences of growing anti-Asian sentiments amid the COVID-19 pandemic, assessing the role of the racial attitudes in shaping Americans’ vote choices between 2008 and 2020. These papers draw on a varied range of theoretical perspectives, empirical data, and methods to explore questions at the intersection of racial identification, anti-Asian sentiment, and Asian American political behavior. Taken together, this research has important implications for understanding contemporary American politics.


The Effects of Peer Political Endorsements on Asian Americans’ Partisan Views
Tanika Raychaudhuri, University of Houston

Asian Americans, the fastest growing racial group in the US, are voting for Democrats at high levels. According to exit polls, most Asian Americans voted for Democrats in every presidential election since 2000. What explains Asian Americans’ vote choices? More generally, how do Asian Americans develop partisan views? I seek to answer these questions, developing and testing a theory grounded in partisan influence from peer networks. The theory, which I call “social transmission,” predicts that immigrants and their children develop partisan orientations through the diffusion of views from peers, rather than through the family. Using a survey experiment, I will explore whether political endorsements from peer networks have a causal effect on Asian Americans’ partisan attitudes. Specifically, I test whether learning that their peers support a political proposal attributed to either the Democratic or Republican Party makes Asian American college students express greater support for that party. In an experiment conducted on Asian American and non-Asian students at a public university, I will manipulate the partisan direction of policy statements about higher education and whether members of the respondent’s known peer groups endorse the message. The results will have important implications for understanding partisan acquisition and political learning among Asian Americans and other immigrant groups.

Local Determinants of Identity Salience and Political Engagement among Asians
Jennifer Wu

This paper aims to understand the importance of one’s community in shaping one’s racialized and political identity. In particular, I examine local determinants and characteristics that explain how Asians in the United States come to understand the concepts of “Asian” and “Asian American” and the political consequences of the construction of these identities. I develop a novel measure of Asian group density in geographic localities, capturing the relative group size of Asians and the relative group size of Asian national origin groups in a given area. These measures attempt to capture the importance of community in contributing and structuring one’s political preferences. I combine these measures with existing survey and administrative data on Asian political attitudes and behavior to identify the relationship between one’s community and the salience of one’s pan-ethnic identity on affecting political behavior and attitudes. I aim to answer two questions. First, what are the underlying factors that potentially explain why some individuals identify more (or less) strongly as Asian. Second, how this might subsequently affect their political engagement and propensity to vote, particularly for an Asian candidate? This study contributes to prior work on Asian political behavior by identifying salient macro-level factors that potentially explain the variation in turnout rates among different Asian national origin groups.

How Home Country and Host Society Identity Politics Conflict
Jae Yeon Kim, KDI School of Public Policy and Management; Joan E. Cho, Wesleyan University; D.G. Kim, University of California, San Diego

In the United States, immigrants from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are conflated as Chinese by the Census bureau. These people have also been subject to the xenophobia that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous studies argue that sharing marginalized racial status would generate race-based group consciousness and political identity. We argue that the literature underestimates the extent to which these immigrants view host society through home country politics. We test this argument using a survey experiment on U.S. immigrants from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. We find weak evidence that priming marginalized racial status generates race-based group consciousness and political identity. By contrast, we show strong evidence that priming the differences of their home country regimes strengthens national or regional identity-based group consciousness and political identity. More importantly, when we used both stimuli, racial marginalization became substantially less critical to our outcomes of interest. The findings urge scholars to pay greater attention to home country politics to understand immigrant incorporation and their political attitude and identity formation in the host society.

Activating Anti-Asian Attitudes: A Look at Vote Choice Pre and Post Pandemic
Nathan Kar Ming Chan, University of California, Irvine; Vivien Leung, Bucknell University

When do anti-Asian sentiments become consequential for candidate vote choice? While there is evidence that shows attitudes towards marginalized outgroups predicts public opinion, less is known regarding the specific effects of anti-Asian views. Although anti-Asian sentiments are not new, they have resurfaced due to the ongoing pandemic. We theorize that the persistent linkage of COVID-19 to Asian Americans by the Republican Party and in news media activated anti-Asian racial animosity onto vote choice uniquely in the 2020 presidential election. Using cross-sectional and panel data from the American National Election Studies (ANES), we examine how and when anti-Asian views become predictive of Republican vote choice. Our findings show that anti-Asian views were not associated with voting for the Republican candidate, including Trump support from 2008 to 2016. However, in 2020, anti-Asian views became predictive of voting for Trump. After the racialization of the pandemic, panel analysis demonstrates that anti-Asian views measured in 2016 were related to switching to a Trump vote in 2020. Our findings have implications for future work on how outgroup attitudes influence political behavior.

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