Affirmative Action and Asians

A favorite strategy of the Democratic Party is to focus on winning over particular ethnic groups. Asian voters, a small percentage of the electorate, do not receive the same kind of attention as other minority voters. However, it is no secret that a majority of Asian Americans support the Democratic Party. This hasn’t always been the case. Voting patterns reveal that the Democrat Party has succeeded in winning the loyalty of a significant majority of Asian Americans over the past two decades. In the 1996 presidential election where Asians made up just one percent of all voters; 44% voted for Bill Clinton and 48% voted for Republican contender Bob Dole. In the most recent presidential election, the number of Asians voting grew to three percent; and 73% voted for Barack Obama and only 26% voted for Mitt Romney. Despite overwhelming support for Democratic candidates, affirmative action policies supported by the left often undermine Asian Americans.

Last spring, in a 6-2 decision (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself) the Supreme Court upheld a 2006 Michigan referendum prohibiting public universities in Michigan from giving “preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race.” In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor claimed she benefitted from “race-sensitive admissions policies” and argued that such policies “benefit minority groups.” But not all minority groups benefit from Justice Sotomayor’s beloved “race-sensitive admissions policies.”

In 1996 California voters approved proposition 209, an amendment to the state constitution outlawing affirmative action in public university admissions. The amendment declares “the state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in theoperation of public employment, public education, or public contacting.” Legal challenges to Proposition 209 have failed. Earlier this year, California State Senator Ed Hernandez (D) proposed Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA 5) which would repeal portions of Proposition 209. SCA 5 sparked vast opposition not only from the right, but from left-leaning Asian Americans as well. Although many minority students would indeed benefit from SCA 5, studies prove race-based admissions policies place Asian students at an alarming disadvantage compared to other racial groups. A study by research fellow Dr. Althea Nagai of the Center for Equal Opportunity found that in order to compete in the admission process at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Asians must score higher than other races on their SATs. Dr. Nagai discovered that the Asian students admitted in 2008 scored a median of 1370 out of 1600 on their SATs while white students scored 1350, Hispanics 1250, and African Americans 1190. Thomas Espenshade a professor of sociology at Princeton University discovered that Asian students who scored a perfect 1600 on their SATs had the same chance of gaining admission to an elite college as an African American student scoring an 1150. These studies, along with others suggests that Asian students must score much higher on their standardized tests in order to gain an equal chance of acceptance to college. Several advocacy groups such as the Asian Legal Foundation and the National Federation of Indian American Associations have called on lawmakers to rein in such overt discrimination against Asian students. Though well-intended, when race-sensitive admission policies give preference to individuals of one group, they inadvertently harms individuals of another group. 

The Republican Party has a long way to go to not only win over Asian voters but minority voters in general. The data make clear that Democrats have succeeded in winning the loyalty of Asian Americans. The GOP must articulate a clear message to young Asian students that race-based admissions policies from the left impede their chances of admittance to elite schools.