The Chinatown area of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was long a Democratic stronghold. The party’s candidates would often receive more than 70 percent of the vote there. Last year, however, the neighborhood underwent a political transformation.
Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor, managed to win Sunset Park’s Chinatown, receiving more votes than Gov. Kathy Hochul. This map, by my colleague Jason Kao, shows the change:
Margin of victory in governor’s races in Brooklyn’s Chinatowns
Sources: New York City Board of Elections; U.S. Census Bureau
By Jason Kao
This shift is part of a national story. In the past two elections — 2020 and 2022 — Asian Americans have moved toward the right, according to election returns and exit polls. Democrats still won Asian voters by a wide margin in last year’s midterms but by less than in the recent past:
Asian American votes in national elections
Note: Chart shows House vote in 2022 and presidential vote in other years.
Source: Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
By The New York Times
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, the Republican incumbent, beat Beto O’Rourke among Asian voters, 52 percent to 46 percent, and Texas House Republicans also did well, according to polls by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. In statewide races in Florida and Georgia, the Republican candidates received at least one-third of the vote, substantially more than in previous elections.
The Times has just published a series of maps and charts focusing on New York City neighborhoods where most eligible voters are of Asian descent, including Sunset Park, Flushing and Manhattan’s Chinatown. Jason told me that he had started thinking about this subject after his father, who rarely talks about politics, said that he had voted for Zeldin. Later, Jason saw a post-election map of New York and was shocked to see that some of the Chinatown neighborhoods where he grew up were colored red.
As Aminta Kilawan-Narine, a community activist who was raised in South Richmond Hill, which is home to a large Indian American population, told Jason, “I’ve never seen so many signs for a Republican governor in the areas I grew up in.” She was one of the local leaders, academic researchers and political officials whom Jason interviewed, and he heard a few points repeatedly from those experts:
Republican campaigns have recently increased their outreach to Asian voters, while Democratic candidates had grown complacent.
Education issues hurt Democrats. Asian voters have been unhappy with proposals to change the rules for magnet high schools like Stuyvesant that admit children based on test scores. Many students at those schools come from lower-income Asian families.
Perhaps most important, the Republicans’ anti-crime message resonated, following increases in both citywide crime and anti-Asian violence. Lester Chang, a military veteran and a new Republican member of the New York State Assembly, said that the overwhelming reason he won a Brooklyn district — beating a Democratic incumbent who had held the seat for 36 years — was crime.
Asian Americans are politically diverse. The most heavily Democratic groups include those of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Arab descent. The least Democratic group is Vietnamese Americans, followed by Korean, Cambodian and Filipino Americans.
Nationally, the rightward drift of Asian voters is connected to a new class divide in American politics. The Democratic Party, especially its liberal wing, has increasingly come to reflect the views of college-educated professionals. This development has had some benefits for Democrats, helping them win more suburban voters and flip Arizona and Georgia in recent elections.
To a growing number of working-class voters, however, the newly upscale version of the party has become less appealing. The trend has long been evident among white working-class voters, and many liberal analysts have claimed that it mostly reflects racial bigotry. But recent developments have weakened that argument. Class appears to be an important factor as well. Since 2018, more Asian and Latino voters have supported Republicans, and these voters appear to be disproportionately working-class.
The Pew Research Center has conducted a detailed analysis of the electorate and categorized about 8 percent of voters as belonging to “the progressive left.” This group spans all races, but it is disproportionately white — and upper-income. True, a large number of Democrats, including many Black voters, are more moderate. But the progressive left has an outsize impact partly because of its strong presence in institutions with access to political megaphones, like advocacy groups, universities, media organizations and Hollywood.
The Covid era
The shift of Asian and Latino voters has coincided with a period when the progressive left has become bolder and shaped the Democrats’ national image. The shift has also coincided with the pandemic and its aftermath.
Progressives supported extended Covid school closures — which were easier for white-collar parents to manage — and often excoriated people who favored a return to normal activities. As crime surged during the pandemic, progressives often downplayed the importance of the trend even as it alarmed many people of color. “Being Asian, I felt I had a bigger target on my back,” Karen Wang, 48, a Queens resident and lifelong Democrat who voted Republican last year, told The Times.
Immigration may also play a role. Democratic leaders like Barack Obama once emphasized the importance of border security. Today, many Democrats are uncomfortable talking about almost any immigration restrictions. In Texas, polls show, immigration concerns have driven some Latino voters toward Republicans.
Then there are the debates over language. In the name of inclusion and respect, some progressives have argued that common terms such as “pregnant women,” “the poor” and “Latinos” are offensive. Many voters find these arguments befuddling and irrelevant to their everyday concerns.
Beyond individual policy issues, working-class voters tend to have a different worldview than much of the modern Democratic Party. They are often more religious and more patriotic. In a Times poll last year, only 26 percent of Democratic voters with a bachelor’s degree described the U.S. as the greatest country in the world; more than half of voters without a bachelor’s degree gave that answer.
The Republican Party obviously has its own problems with swing voters, including Asian Americans. Donald Trump has promoted white nationalism, and his descriptions of Covid fed anti-Asian racism. The Republican Party favors abortion bans, while most voters favor significant access to abortion. Many Republican politicians also oppose popular economic policies, like caps on medical costs.
Given the radicalism of today’s Republican Party, liberals had hoped that Asian and Latino voters would help usher in an era of Democratic dominance. And maybe that will happen one day. But it is not happening yet. Instead, Democrats’ struggles with Latino and Asian voters have helped Republicans solidify their hold on states where Democrats had hoped to start winning by now, like Texas, Florida and North Carolina.
To a growing number of working-class voters, the Democratic Party looks even more flawed than the alternative.
For more: Jason’s article compares the trends in New York’s majority Asian precincts with the trends in majority Black, Latino and white precincts. You can see his charts and maps here.
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