05 February 2010

Race, Religion and Politics

Gallup neatly sums up the political leanings (liberal v. conservative), partisan leanings (Democrat v. Republican), and intensity of religious leanings (is religion an important part of your daily life; how often do you attend religious services) for non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics, non-Hispanic African Americans and Asian Americans, with a focus on Asian Americans.

When data isn't available, most people tend to assume that Asian Americans are similar to non-Hispanic whites, and in a wide variety of cases, this is an accurate assumption. But, when it comes to religion and politics, this isn't the case.

Asian Americans are more likely than any of the other groups to describe themselves as "liberal" and less likely than any of the other groups to view religion as important parts of their daily lives or to attend religious services regularly.

While Asian Americans are more likely to view themselves as, or lean towards the Democrats, rather than the Republicans (by a 61-24 margin), this margin is not as great as it is for African-Americans (83-8) or some non-Christian demographics like Jews. Asian Americans are more likely to favor Democrats than Hispanics (53-21), or non-Hispanic whites (43-45).

The percentage of Asian Americans who identify with or lean towards the Republican party (24%) is close to the percentage of Asian Americans who view themselves as conservative (21%). This is also true of non-Hispanic whites among who 45% identify as a lean towards the Republican party, while 42% of non-Hispanic whites view themselves as conservatives. The number of conservative Asian Americans and non-Hispanic whites who do not identify with or lean towards the Republican party is smaller than the number of liberal or moderate Asian Americans and non-Hispanic whites who identify with or lean towards the Republican party.

In contrast, many African American and Hispanics who view themselves as conservatives do not identify with or lean towards the Republican party. Just 8% of African Americans and 21% of Hispanics identify with or lean towards the Republican party. Yet, 29% of African Americans and 34% of Hispanics view themselves as conservatives. Less than a third of conservative African Americans favor the Republican party. Less than two-thirds of conservative Hispanics favor the Republican party.

(Interestingly, despite the large number of non-whites describing themselves as conservatives who are not Republicans, non-whites are the least conservative demographic within the Republican party on all issues but gay rights.)

Viewed in this way, the results are a good fit with the notion that Asian Americans favor Republicans for the same reasons (they are conservative) and to the same extent (given one's political ideology) as non-Hispanic whites.

Intensity of religious involvement can partially explain why Asian Americans tend to be liberal, but only partially, because Asian Americans are more liberal than differences in intensity of religious involvement alone can explain. Gallup suggests that concentrations of Asian Americans in states that tend to be liberal themselves may be a factor.

Those states may in turn be liberal, in part, because they tend to be urban, which is an important predictor of political ideology. Non-Hispanic whites, African Americans and Hispanics are all far more likely live in rural areas and farm communities than Asian Americans. There is a fair amount of evidence that simply moving to a more or less urban area has a significant and measurable impact on political identity.

Equally important, those states are not conservative, in part, because they did not inherit the intense cultural legacy of the American South. Southern whites are far more conservative, and far more prone to be Republicans, than comparable whites elsewhere in the United States where many whites are liberal and/or Democrats. As I noted in a prior post, in the Northeast the Democratic party has:

majority or near majority support among non-Hispanic whites, many of whom are quite affluent. The Northeast has a disproportionately high white Catholic population, and these days abortion is the only issue keeping even many "independent" Catholic voters on the fence between the Democratic and Republican parties.

In contrast, in many Republican strongholds in the South, the Democratic party receives less than 10% of the non-Hispanic white vote, while the Republican Party receives almost no support from Hispanics and from non-whites. Likewise, in the places where the GOP is strongest, conservative Christianity is at the heart of the reasons that supporters stick with the Republican Party. Where Republicans remain strong, it is because they are engaged in tribal politics, rather than debating over ideas within particular ethnic and religious groups.

As noted in a quote I have posted before:

[T]he net decline in support for Democratic presidential candidates among white voters over the past half-century is entirely attributable to partisan change in the South. It is equally notable, in light of the alleged abandonment of the Democratic Party by working-class cultural conservatives, that white voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more loyal in their support of Democratic presidential candidates over this period. Republican gains have come not among "poorer folks" but among middle- and upper-income voters--and even those gains have been concentrated entirely in the South.

A Brief History Of Republican Racism

The anomoly, when the statistics are viewed this way, is not that so many Asian Americans favor Democrats, but that so few conservative African Americans and Hispanics favor Republicans.

The historical cause of the Republican party's inability to win over African American and Hispanic conservatives is fairly obvious. Republicans have been the party opposed to civil rights and ending ethnic discrimination ever since Presidential candidate Richard Nixon committed Republicans to this "Southern Strategy", and Lyndon Johnson and many other Democrats in his generation of political leaders cast themselves as backers of the Civil Rights movement. Over the last forty years, the process of realignment has overwhelmingly won over white conservatives, especially in the South, to the Republican party, briefly assuming the Democratic party mantle as the party of segregation before it was segregation was outlawed by the courts and Congress.

Before then, conservative white Republicans who were opposed to civil rights and ending ethnic discrimination were Democrats, mostly in the South, sometimes known as Dixiecrats. FRD's New Deal coalition of the Democrats managed to suppress intraparty conflict over racial equality in the face of efforts to address the Great Depression and then to fight World War II, but when those pressures abated, the coalition fell apart.

Democratic dominance in the South, in turn, flowed from the fact that President Abraham Lincoln's Republican party led the Civil War that the secessionist South lost, and the Reconstruction era that followed, both of which poisoned Southern whites (who overwhelmingly favored the secession that led to the Civil War and opposed Reconstruction era reforms) to the Republican party for a century. The Republican party in the Reconstruction era was predominantly associated with African Americans and "carpet baggers" from the North who participated in administering federal policy during Reconstruction. But, when the federal government withdrew from running the South, Jim Crow segregation arose, African Americans were prevented in myriad cycles of schemes from voting in large numbers, the South was ruled by Democrats (who were predominantly white in that era in the South) in a dominant party political system, and the Republican party became so impotent in the South that it lost any meaningful political identity.

The battles over civil rights were fought without much regard to the role it might have for Asian Americans. The laws and institutions designed to protect African Americans descended from slaves from racism maintained through institutions of segregation in former slave states. Very few Asian Americans lived in these states at any time. Early Asian immigrants came to the United States to fill labor shortages that weren't present in the South, often in the rail building industry. Later Asian immigrants (a mix with a heavy component of professionals and business people seeking economic opportunity, and people fleeing war and religous persecution in Asia) tended to settle in the same metropolitan areas that Southern European immigrants before them had favored, at a time when the South still lagged far behind much of the rest of the nation economically and wasn't experiencing rapid economic growth. Outside the South, many Asian Americans, the so called "model minority" fast struggles and obstacles, but didn't have nearly the same material stake in the legal achievements of the Civil Right movement.

A Note On Subgroups

Gallup's survey provides useful information that is often hard to obtain from other sources which frequently suppress Asian American cross tabs because the sample sizes are often too small to be statistically significant in small surveys not targeted at Asian Americans.

Alas, at least the public press release that I have access to does not break the sample into ethnic subgroups.

Both Asian American and Hispanic populations in the United States are aggregations of ethnic subgroups that are sometimes very distinct in terms of socio-economic status, political leanings and religious inclinations.

In the Hispanic population, the biggest divide is between Cuban, particularly in Florida, a community made up mostly of anti-communist migrants/refugees from the communist state in Cuba, who tend to be conservative and are much more likely to lean towards the Republican party, and other Hispanics, from all over Latin America, most of which differ from national statistical average that describe their communities, in the same way that Hispanics in the aggregate do, but more so without the cofounding effect of Cuban-Americans.

Asian Americans have origins which are more culturally diverse than Hispanics, an ethnically culture that is defined on the basis of a shared culture rather than race in the United States, and this might be a basis for differences in political and religious outlooks. There are certainly large socio-economic divides, at least, between people with roots in Southeast Asia and and those with roots in East Asia in the United States, for example. Indeed, even within the subgroup of Asian Americans descended from East Asia, Chinese, Korean and Japanese immigrants are quite distinct.

For example, a large share of Korean-Americans, like many Cubans, are Christians who left the Korea at a time when the threat of communist North Korea was fresh in their minds and this threat was a formative factor in their political ideology. Korea is the most Christian country in Asia, and immigrant Korean Christianity, however denominated, tends to be a rather conservative missionary derived strain of that faith. This could cause Korean-Americans to be more conservative and more Republican leaning than other Asian Americans, or not. We don't know.

In contrast, Japanese-Americans are far less likely to have Christian roots than Korean-Americans, are far more likely to have lived in the United States for many generations, and often have Japanese internment by the United States during World War II as a formative factor in their political ideology. This could cause Japanese-Americans to be more liberal and more Democratic Party leaning than some Asian American groups, or not. We don't know.

Southeast Asian-Americans, many of whom share with Cuban-Americans the experience departing after ending up on the losing side to communists in the Cold War, unlike Cuban-Americans have tended to be less economically successful in America than either East Asian (or South Asian) immigrants, or Cuban-Americans. Southeast Asian immigrants are also more concentrated geographically than East Asian and South Asian immigrants. This could cause Southeast Asian-American to have significant numbers of conservatives who are not Republicans, or not. We don't know.

I hesitate to guess what impact this has on the political ideology of Asian American subgroups, because there isn't much data available to me to back it up. If I had the data, I could probably offer some very persausive heuristic explanations. I can probably even identify the factors that are likely to have an impact on political identity for most of the subgroups of Asian Americans in the United States. But, I'm not confident that I could weight competing factors very accurately.

When distinctive multiple sub-groups are aggregated, statistics about the entire group really only shed much light on the trends shared in common by the most numerous subgroups in the sample.

In the same way, unless you happened upon statistics breaking out Florida or Cuban-Americans specifically, you could go a lifetime without ever suspecting that Hispanics were anything but homogeneous as a political community, and you might even suspect an error in survey techniques when you saw political statistics from Florida or related to Cuban-Americans until you learned why this anomoly exists.

By ethnic sub-group, Asian Americans in the United States break out as follows:

Current estimates indicate that about 14.9 million people report themselves as having either full or partial Asian heritage, around 5.0% of the U.S. population. The largest ethnic subgroups are Chinese (3.53 million), Filipinos (3.05 million), Indians (2.77 million), Vietnamese (1.64 million), Koreans (1.56 million), and Japanese (1.22 million). Other sizable groups are Cambodians/Khmers (206,000), Pakistanis (204,000), Laotians (198,000), Hmong (186,000), and Thais (150,000).

This mix leaves lots of room to mask subgroup trends.

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