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Asian American Political Participation

Asian American Political Participation: Emerging Constituents and Their Political Identities

Janelle Wong
S. Karthick Ramakrishnan
Taeku Lee
Jane Junn
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 392
  • Book Info
    Asian American Political Participation
    Book Description:

    Asian Americans are a small percentage of the U.S. population, but their numbers are steadily rising—from less than a million in 1960 to more than 15 million today. They are also a remarkably diverse population—representing several ethnicities, religions, and languages—and they enjoy higher levels of education and income than any other U.S. racial group. Historically, socioeconomic status has been a reliable predictor of political behavior. So why has this fast-growing American population, which is doing so well economically, been so little engaged in the U.S. political system? Asian American Political Participation is the most comprehensive study to date of Asian American political behavior, including such key measures as voting, political donations, community organizing, and political protests. The book examines why some groups participate while others do not, why certain civic activities are deemed preferable to others, and why Asian socioeconomic advantage has so far not led to increased political clout. Asian American Political Participation is based on data from the authors’ groundbreaking 2008 National Asian American Survey of more than 5,000 Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, and Japanese Americans. The book shows that the motivations for and impediments to political participation are as diverse as the Asian American population. For example, native-born Asians have higher rates of political participation than their immigrant counterparts, particularly recent adult arrivals who were socialized outside of the United States. Protest activity is the exception, which tends to be higher among immigrants who maintain connections abroad and who engaged in such activity in their country of origin. Surprisingly, factors such as living in a new immigrant destination or in a city with an Asian American elected official do not seem to motivate political behavior—neither does ethnic group solidarity. Instead, hate crimes and racial victimization are the factors that most motivate Asian Americans to participate politically. Involvement in non-political activities such as civic and religious groups also bolsters political participation. Even among Asian groups, socioeconomic advantage does not necessarily translate into high levels of political participation. Chinese Americans, for example, have significantly higher levels of educational attainment than Japanese Americans, but Japanese Americans are far more likely to vote and make political contributions. And Vietnamese Americans, with the lowest levels of education and income, vote and engage in protest politics more than any other group. Lawmakers tend to favor the interests of groups who actively engage the political system, and groups who do not participate at high levels are likely to suffer political consequences in the future. Asian American Political Participation demonstrates that understanding Asian political behavior today can have significant repercussions for Asian American political influence tomorrow.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-755-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Chapter 1 Making Visible: Political Participation
    (pp. 1-33)

    In the spring of 2008, Asian American voters were showered with attention for the first time in a presidential election year, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama scrambled for voters after the initial set of caucuses and primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. With the consequences of Super Tuesday far from certain, and with every delegate potentially important on the road to secure the Democratic nomination, the Clinton and Obama campaigns pressed their case to various constituencies. For the first time, this included a significant number of Asian Americans. Clinton drew endorsements from several Asian American elected...

  6. Chapter 2 Settling In: Immigrant Adaptation
    (pp. 34-84)

    Although people from Asia began to settle in the United States in significant numbers in the mid-1800s, the majority of the population today is foreign-born. In fact, of the five major racial and ethnic groups enumerated by the U.S. Census, Asian Americans are the most heavily immigrant. Data from the 2007 American Community Survey indicate that fully 67 percent of Asian Americans are born outside the United States (table 2.1). By contrast, only 40 percent of Latino residents (adults and children) and a scant 8 percent of African Americans, 5 percent of Native Americans, and 4 percent of whites are...

  7. Chapter 3 Political Geography
    (pp. 85-119)

    Politics is an inherently spatial phenomenon. Nation-states are defined by their geographic boundaries. Electoral offices, from the Senate and the House of Representatives at the federal level to the city council, county sheriff, and district judgeships at the local level, carry jurisdictions bounded by geography. Civil wars and ethnic riots are fought over borderlands and collective remembrances of space. Voters may all share equal standing as citizens, but they can exercise their rights only in the precincts to which they have been assigned. Territoriality, in short, is conjoined to governance and governments.

    In political science, the origins of scholarly attention...

  8. Chapter 4 Democrat, Republican, or None of the Above?
    (pp. 120-151)

    Today we cannot imagine electoral politics in America outside the role political parties play. Decades of research show that the political party a person identifies with remains the single most important determinant of individual vote decisions. Parties constitute key institutions through which new voters enter the political process. They also organize and simplify the decisions voters need to make, a function that should be critical for groups with less collective familiarity with the political system, such as Asian Americans.

    Yet, as we show in this chapter, Asian Americans demonstrate a mixed relationship with political parties. For some, one’s attachment to...

  9. Chapter 5 National Origin, Pan-Ethnicity, and Racial Identity
    (pp. 152-181)

    Identities are at once paradoxically personal and collective. My identity is what defines me personally and uniquely. Yet if my identity is Asian American, it is a fingerprint of individuality shared by roughly 15 million others. Consider for a moment any other trait or aspect you give as an answer to the defining identitarian question, “Who am I?” That answer will surely be shared.

    The mystery that wraps this riddle is that the juxtaposition of Asian and American together does not lend itself to obvious interpretation, especially under the rubric of a unitary, coherent collective identity. Lisa Lowe writes, “The...

  10. Chapter 6 Civic Engagement: Secular and Religious Organizations
    (pp. 182-209)

    Scholars have long debated the effects of ethnic and racial heterogeneity on democratic stability, citizenship, and civil society (Lijphart 1968; Easterly and Levine 1997; Dahl 1971). Some scholars of comparative politics argue that racial and ethnic diversity weaken civil society as the result of ethnic conflict and competition over scarce resources (Alesina and La Ferrara 2000). For example, Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn’s research suggests that citizens in racially diverse places tend to be less civically engaged, undermining civil society (2003). Others, such as Christopher Anderson and Aida Paskeviciute, find that ethnic heterogeneity can exert a positive effect on civil...

  11. Chapter 7 Making Sense of the Whole
    (pp. 210-228)

    So far, we have laid out a careful descriptive account of Asian American political participation as seen through five broad sets of factors: immigrant socialization, residential contexts, party socialization, racial identification, and civic association. We have treated each of these sets of factors as a series of lenses through which to see Asian American political participation. Some of these lenses have been much more sharply grounded in political science, and our task has been to refashion them to consider the experiences and trajectories of groups that are overwhelmingly foreign-born. Other lenses, such as those relating to immigrant socialization and racial...

  12. Chapter 8 Activists and the Future of Asian American Political Participation
    (pp. 229-242)

    The central question motivating this book is why Asian Americans participate, or do not, in politics. In more concrete terms, how do we explain the different levels of engagement with politics expressed by the two Asian American individuals just quoted? To address this question, we sought throughout this book to better understand the nature and dynamics of Asian American political engagement. In chapters 2 through 6, we suggest that five pathways exist to facilitate political participation among Asian Americans. In chapter 7, we draw out the implications of our findings, focusing on the ways in which the analysis informs larger...

  13. Appendix A Conceptualizing Race and National Origin
    (pp. 243-245)
  14. Appendix B Survey Instrument
    (pp. 246-285)
  15. Appendix C Additional Bivariate Tables
    (pp. 286-288)
  16. Appendix D Multivariate Models of Participation
    (pp. 289-292)
  17. Appendix E Stages of Participation
    (pp. 293-301)
  18. Appendix F Survey Design
    (pp. 302-314)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 315-326)
  20. References
    (pp. 327-356)
  21. Index
    (pp. 357-376)