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Diversity and Democracy: Context and the Puzzle of Asian American Political Engagement

Awarded Scholars

Jane Junn, Rutgers University
Taeku Lee, University of California, Berkeley
S. Karthick Ramakrishnan, University of California, Riverside
Janelle Wong, University of Southern California
Project Date: June, 2008
Award Amount:$223,188
Project Programs: Immigration

Asians and Pacific Islanders currently represent 4.4 percent of the U.S. population, but they made up only two percent of the electorate in the 2004 national election. A large segment of the population is foreign born, which restricts formal electoral participation, but as the population grows so should the pool of potential voters. Yet at every level of education and income, Asian Americans continue to register and vote at rates lower than the general population. Political scientists Jane Junn (Rutgers University), Taeku Lee (University of California, Berkeley), S. Karthick Ramakrishnan (University of California, Riverside), and Janelle Wong (University of Southern California) investigated this disparity by conducting a nationwide telephone survey of 4,000 Asian Americans from both traditional and new destination settlement areas.
There are significant differences in electoral participation between Asian groups, but socioeconomic status alone has not been a good indicator of who votes and who doesn’t. Japanese Americans, for example, are a highly educated group and are the most likely among all Asian-origin groups to both register and vote, yet both Vietnamese (a less well-educated group) and Korean Americans (relatively well educated) have the lowest rates of participation. The investigators argue that what we know about the political life of these new Americans and their co-ethnics has been limited by the kinds of data available. Current data is mostly derived from local and regional data-collection emphasizing political behavior (e.g., registering a vote, casting a ballot in an election, or running for office) and the interpretation of observed trends has been restricted by models of voting behavior and immigrant incorporation based on non-Asian origin groups.
This survey gathered comprehensive and systematic data on both formal and informal avenues of Asian American participation—from voter registration, electoral voting, and campaign donations to protesting, volunteering for community projects, attending public meetings, and writing to elected officials. The results of this project were published in the RSF volume, Asian American Political Participation.
Reports and Publications:
An Interview with S. Karthick Ramakrishnan: Analyzing Asian American Political Behavior