Is the Asian American Realignment Permanent?
Republicans look to solidify their gains
Of late, the New York Times has been catching up to some of the important work done by writers like Sheluyang Peng and Matthew Thomas in exploring why Asian American voters in New York City have swung so hard toward the Republican Party. Illustrating the shift in color-coded maps, the Times demonstrated how rapidly Chinese and Korean voters in the five boroughs have migrated rightward. In 2018, during the blue wave midterm, neighborhoods like Sunset Park, Bensonhurst, and Flushing voted overwhelmingly for Democrats. Four years later, Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for governor, was dominant in most of these areas and downballot GOP candidates flipped seats or came very close to winning. (Chinatown in Manhattan stayed mostly blue, though the only pro-Zeldin election district in the borough was there.) Most notably, an Asian American Republican who didn’t even live in a Brooklyn Assembly seat defeated a Democratic incumbent who had represented the district since 1987. In an overlapping State Senate seat, an Asian American Democrat defeated a white Republican by just 215 votes. For Democrats, the outcome of that race was particularly troubling; it was proof Asian voters, for so long willing to back Democrats who look like them, would eschew identity politics altogether if a candidate aligned with them on their issues.
And it’s these issues, obviously, that are driving Asian American voters into the Republican fold. They worry about hate crimes and believe Democrats, in their support for ending cash bail, have made them more vulnerable to attacks. Working class Asian voters, in particular, do not think Democrats are sufficiently pro-police. They do not think every anti-Asian hate crime can be blamed on Donald Trump or white supremacy. Ever since Bill de Blasio, the former mayor, tried and failed to eliminate a standardized test for specialized high schools in New York City—and briefly enjoyed the support of many Democrats in this push, including Eric Adams, the future mayor—Asian voters have believed the public education system wants to punish them for their success. De Blasio and other progressive Democrats viewed scrapping the test, known as the SHSAT, through the lens of equity, arguing too few Black and Latino students ended up at top schools like Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Tech. While advocates and some media outlets sought to portray ending the SHSAT as a way to reduce the disproportionate representation of white and Asian students in the specialized schools, the white population, relative to the city’s, is not over-represented in schools like Stuyvesant. It’s the Asian students, many of them the children of immigrants, who occupy seven out of ten seats at these top schools. Ending the SHSAT would inevitably reduce their numbers. Many Asians now believe Republicans, not Democrats, are solely advocating for them.
Through two election cycles, a 2021 mayoral race and a 2022 gubernatorial race, it’s clear a realignment is taking place, with Asian voters fast deserting the Democratic Party. But is this state of affairs permanent? Have Democrats, in New York at least, already lost the fastest growing demographic for a generation? Or can future election cycles bring Asian voters back to the Democratic side?