Asian Candidates in America

Published date01 March 2017
Date01 March 2017
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18dvx5abUc03Xo/input 674273PRQXXX10.1177/1065912916674273Political Research QuarterlyVisalvanich
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(1) 68 –81
Asian Candidates in America: The
© 2016 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
Surprising Effects of Positive Racial
DOI: 10.1177/1065912916674273
Neil Visalvanich1
Racial stereotyping has been found to handicap African American and Latino candidates in negative ways. It is less
clear how racial stereotypes may change the fortunes of Asian candidates. This paper explores the candidacies of
Asian Americans with an experiment run through Amazon Mechanical Turk as well as real-world evaluations of
Asian American candidates using the Cooperative Congressional Elections Study. In my experiments, I find that
Asian candidates do significantly better than white candidates across different biographical scenarios (conservative,
liberal, and foreign). I find that, contrary to expectations, Asian candidates are not significantly disadvantaged from
being immigrant and foreign born. My experimental results mirror my observational results, which show that Asian
Democrats are significantly advantaged even when compared with whites. These results indicate that Asian candidates
in America face a set of racial-political stereotypes that are unique to their racial subgroup.
Asian American politics, minority candidates, Congressional elections, race and ethnicity
literature has found that a candidate’s race has an overall
negative effect on the perception of the candidate among
From 1950 to 2000, a total of nine candidates of Asian or
whites (Highton 2011; Kinder and Dale-Riddle 2012;
Pacific Islander descent sought a seat in the U.S. Congress
Lewis-Beck, Tien, and Nadeau 2010; Schaffner 2011;
and won. Since the turn of the century, sixteen Asian can-
Stephens-Davidowitz 2014). Studies about African
didates have been elected to Congress. The 2012 election
American and Latino congressional candidates find that
alone saw the election of five new members of Congress of
they are perceived as more ideologically liberal and less
Asian descent. In addition to Congress, Asians have been
competent than their white counterparts (Jacobsmeier
elected chief executive of politically and racially diverse
2014; McDermott 1998; Sigelman et al. 1995). What has
states such as Washington (Gary Locke), Louisiana (Bobby
remained unexplored is whether Asian candidates suffer a
Jindal), and South Carolina (Nikki Haley), as well as cities
similar racial handicap.
such as Oakland (Jean Quan), San Francisco (Ed Lee), and
The racial stereotypes of Asians are distinct from those
Garden Grove (Bao Nguyen). Not only are Asian candi-
of blacks and Latinos. Asians are seen as the “model”
dates seeking office at the highest rate in American history,
minority, possessing positive traits such as industrious-
but they are also winning in racially diverse districts that
ness and intelligence (Chou and Feagin 2008). In con-
range from majority white to majority Latino or African
trast, at various times in American history, Asian
American (U.S. Census Bureau 2012).
Americans have been seen as a foreign threat (I. Chang
Despite Asian Americans being one of the fastest
2004; Chou and Feagin 2008; Kim 1999), a stereotype
growing minority groups in America (U.S. Census
that persists into the modern day (Lee 2000; Wu 2003).
Bureau 2013) and the increasing success of Asian candi-
The overall socioeconomic status of Asian Americans
dates, the literature on race and ethnic politics lacks a
clear understanding of what effect, if any, race has on the
candidacies of Asian Americans. Extensive work on the
1Durham University, UK
candidacies of blacks and Latinos has found that white
voters often incorporate racial stereotypes into the evalu-
Corresponding Author:
Neil Visalvanich, School of Government & International Affairs,
ation of their candidates (Kinder and Dale-Riddle 2012;
Durham University, Durham, UK.
McDermott 1998; Terkildsen 1993). The thrust of this

also makes them distinct from blacks and Latinos. Asians
stereotypes and social stereotypes. Bobo (2001) finds that
are more likely to have a higher median income and have
whites are more likely to see blacks and Latinos as politi-
higher educational attainment than blacks or Latinos
cally liberal and more supportive of social welfare poli-
(DeNavas-Walt, Richardson, and Stringfellow 2010).
cies. In addition, he also finds that blacks and Latinos are
How these impressions and characteristics of Asians
seen as less trustworthy than whites or Asians. These
might play into the evaluation of Asian candidates
racial stereotypes have, in turn, been found to apply to
remains an open question.
black and Latino candidates for political office.
To test whether the popular racial stereotypes of
Experimental and observational studies have found that
Asians have an effect on the outcome of their political
both black and Latino candidates are seen as more liberal
candidacies, I use an experiment meant to isolate the
and less competent than whites (Sigelman et al. 1995;
effect of the Asian racial cue as well as test the interaction
Visalvanich 2016). These findings are echoed by
of candidate race with ideological cues and foreign-born/
McDermott (1998), who finds that blacks are perceived
immigrant cues.1 I supplement this experiment with an
as more likely to hold liberal policy positions that are pro-
observational study of real-world Asian candidates com-
social welfare. This literature indicates that group-based
peting in congressional elections.
stereotyping is a major component of minority candidate
In my experiments, I find that Asian candidates are
actually favored by whites in the vote when compared
If a white electorate imputes its stereotypes and preju-
with white candidates with the same biography in an elec-
dices onto black and Latino candidates, it stands to reason
tion with minimal political cues and where both candi-
that Asian candidates are afflicted by their own social and
dates are portrayed as politically neutral. In addition, I
political stereotypes as well. However, a rigorous exami-
find that foreign-born Asian candidates are significantly
nation of how group-based stereotyping may apply to
advantaged in terms of vote choice as well, suggesting
Asian candidates has yet to be conducted. The primary
that Asian candidates are not handicapped by foreign-
contribution of this paper is to explore this question, both
ness. The results of the observational study mirror the
with experiments and observational data. Using preexist-
results of the experimental study. I observe that Asian
ing theories and empirical findings about stereotypes of
candidates, specifically Asian Democrats, are seen as less
Asians in America, I present several different hypotheses
ideologically extreme and more competent, and have a
of how racial stereotyping might affect Asian political
sizable advantage in the vote when compared with black,
Latino, and even white candidates with similar qualities.
Although traditionally, race has been seen as a hin-
The Stereotyping of Asians in America
drance on minority candidates, these results point to a
racial dynamic of American politics in which race may be
To properly examine how group-based stereotyping may
a benefit to certain groups under certain contexts. In addi-
influence Asian candidacies, it is important to first exam-
tion, these findings speak to the unique position in which
ine empirical studies of public opinion toward Asians in
Asians find themselves in American politics—as mem-
America. The thrust of many of these studies finds that
bers of a minority group that is seen as at least politically
Asians are subject to a very distinct set of sociopolitical
proximal to whites and superior to their black and Latino
stereotyping when compared with blacks and Latinos.
Bobo (2001) finds that although whites are more likely to
perceive Latinos and blacks as “less intelligent” and
“more demanding of welfare,” these stereotypes do not
Asian Americans and Minority
apply to Asians. Unlike blacks and Latinos, Asians in
Candidate Evaluation
America are often associated with what can be considered
Candidate Race as an Informational Heuristic
positive racial stereotyping even when compared with
whites. Bowler and Segura (2011) examine racial stereo-
Voters often use informational heuristics, such as partisan
types across subgroups and find that Asians as a group are
affiliation or incumbency, in evaluating their candidates
seen as both more hardworking and more intelligent when
(Popkin 1994). Studies of the effect of race on minority
compared with other minority groups, especially blacks
candidates have found that voters do indeed use race to
and Latinos. Interestingly, white respondents view Asians
cue in on a candidate’s personal and political qualities,
very positively when compared with whites as a subgroup
whether they be ideology, integrity, or competence.
themselves. Bowler and Segura (2011) also find that 39.2
The thrust of the literature on race and candidate eval-
percent of white respondents from the 2008 American
uation has found that...

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