How Asian-American Voters Went From Republican To Democratic : It's All Politics In the past two decades, the small-but-growing Asian-American vote has shifted dramatically in presidential elections.
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How Asian-American Voters Went From Republican To Democratic

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How Asian-American Voters Went From Republican To Democratic

How Asian-American Voters Went From Republican To Democratic

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's one way this country's electorate is changing - Asian-Americans are becoming more numerous, and when they vote, they're leaning much more Democratic. Twenty years ago, not even one-third of Asians voted for Democrats. In 2012, well over two-thirds voted for President Obama. That is considered the most dramatic recent swing in any demographic group. NPR's Asma Khalid reports on the complicated story of Asian voters.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: There's this Asian strip mall in northern Virginia where you can buy just about anything, from jasmine rice to jade jewelry.

GENIE NGUYEN: I'm Genie Nguyen. I'm from Vietnam. I've been here since '75.

KHALID: Genie Nguyen and I meet inside a mini-mall between a Vietnamese radio station and a nail salon. She heads up this nonprofit called Voice of Vietnamese Americans that works on civic engagement. When we sit down to talk politics, she tells me she remembers voting Republican.

NGUYEN: I remember I did vote for Reagan. President Reagan was my hero because many Vietnamese at the time, we were very much victims of communism.

KHALID: But she says the party changed.

NGUYEN: I think the Republican has gone too far to the right, and they are not the Republicans of the Reagans anymore.

KHALID: And some of the voters have changed, too. The top issue for Vietnamese isn't communism anymore. Nguyen says they're more concerned about jobs, affordable health care and the economy.

NGUYEN: Many are working low, you know, minimum wage jobs, so we'd really care for the higher, better minimum wage.

KHALID: Nguyen herself voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012.

KARTHICK RAMAKRISHNAN: Asian-Americans tend to have progressive positions on things like taxes, on things like preserving social safety net, supporting the Affordable Care Act.

KHALID: Karthick Ramakrishnan runs the National Asian American Survey. It's the go-to resource for data on Asian voters.

RAMAKRISHNAN: Asian-Americans, including wealthy Asian-Americans, support policies that tend to be more in line with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.

KHALID: But, Ramakrishnan says, it wasn't always that way. The Asian political conversion started during Bill Clinton's presidency because of a deliberate effort to court Asians. Then, he says, September 11 happened, and some Asians felt racially profiled.

RAMAKRISHNAN: Many South Asians I know personally, who might have been sympathetic to the Republican Party, were starting to have second thoughts.

KHALID: Ramakrishnan says the anti-immigrant rhetoric this campaign season makes them think again. Nearly three-quarters of Asian-American adults were born abroad. And he says even if most of the talk is aimed at Latinos, Asian voters will punish candidates with strong anti-immigrant attitudes.

RAMAKRISHNAN: They're seeing which party seems like a welcoming party, which party seems like an exclusionary party.

KHALID: Ramakrishnan says it doesn't help when a Republican like Jeb Bush attempts to clarify his use of the term anchor babies, which many Latinos find offensive this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEB BUSH: And frankly, it's more related to Asian people coming into our country, taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.

CHRISTINE CHEN: He did it in a way that casts this entire stereotype that this is how the Asian-American community is.

KHALID: Christine Chen is the director of APIAVote, which mobilizes Asian voters.

CHEN: The Asian-American electorate, they immediately is starting to take note of all the China bashing, the comments with Jeb Bush, as well as the current criticism of China.

KHALID: The reason this is important is because an overwhelming number of Asians are actually not officially affiliated with any party. Ramakrishnan says that means Asians are theoretically open to persuasion. It's just a matter of who will persuade them which way. Asma Khalid, NPR News.

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