gained seven percentage points with Asian Americans this election. (Among Asians, only Japanese Americans shifted toward the Democrats.)
This might be cause for alarm for Democrats, who like to see themselves as the bearer of a nationwide multiracial coalition. Is this a myth? In California, a Democratic stronghold, Asian Americans appear increasingly nonplussed about campaigns touting multicultural ideals. For instance, many Asian American families oppose affirmative action, fearing that their children would suffer in elite university admissions if merit were given less weight than race. So when Proposition 16 – which would have ended a 24-year-old ban on affirmative action in education, employment and contracting – appeared on the ballot, Asian Americans played a pivotal role in voting it down. They were not taking it for the team. But should they be expected to?
I voted for Proposition 16 in support of affirmative action, but I represent a segment of the liberal elite: a photogenic if not misleading face of the Asian American constituency. For people like my father, Democrats’ messages of inclusion and multiculturalism are leaving them cold.
When Kamala Harris identified as the first Asian American vice-presidential candidate, my father did not particularly “feel seen”. When he read that Black Lives Matter protests turned violent, he bought an American flag from Amazon and hoisted it above his front door. Some of his views and choices mystify me, but I see how, for instance, a term like “Bipoc” – which stands for Black and Indigenous people of color, and stakes ity based on relative disadvantage – risks leaving many Asian Americans feeling squeezed out of the minority coalition, like an expendable casualty. This breeds the kind of resentment that the writer Wesley Yang identified when describing Asian Americans as “a nominal minority whose claim to be a ‘person of color’ deserving of the special regard reserved for victims is taken seriously by no one”.
While the Biden campaign heavily courted the suburban vote, it still missed demographics like my father’s. In California’s 39th district, where my parents live, Democrat Gil Cisneros launched a much-lauded campaign where Chinese-speaking staffers reached out to voters on apps like WeChat and Line (popular with Chinese), and Korean speakers to voters on KakaoTalk (popular with Koreans). This diversified approach helped secure his victory in 2018. Yet this year he still lost to the Republican candidate Young Kim.
The Republican campaign to Asian Americans was narrower in scope than the Democrats’, but naturalized citizens make up the majority, and the immigrant population is increasing. While the multiracial coalition is certainly an ideal worth fighting for, the Democrats need to find ways of reaching immigrant voters that go beyond an identity politics that treats Asian Americans as a consolidated monolith, and listen more to the grievances and enthusiasms immigrants feel today. Asian Americans will be ignorable up until they’re not.
Geoffrey Mak is a writer based in Berlin, and his first essay collection is forthcoming