New Asian American Voters: Political Incorporation and Participation in 2016

Date01 December 2019
Published date01 December 2019
Subject MatterMini-Symposium: Identity Politics and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
Political Research Quarterly
2019, Vol. 72(4) 991 –1003
© 2019 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919843342
Mini-Symposium: Identity Politics and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
Asian Americans today are the fastest growing racial
group in the United States. This growth is due primarily
to immigration, meaning that Asian Americans are more
likely to be foreign-born or citizens by naturalization
compared with members of other racial and ethnic groups.
Diverse in terms of race, national origin, citizenship, and
migration trajectories, Asian Americans are a highly
dynamic population defying simple explanation.
Nevertheless, studies of voting and other types of politi-
cal behavior have often analyzed Asian national origin
groups together and focused on the role of individual-
level resources such as education and income. This strat-
egy has resulted in the persistent finding that Asian
Americans underparticipate relative to relatively high
levels of socioeconomic status and reinforces the charac-
terization of Asian Americans as apolitical nonvoters
who are politically quiescent. How can scholars reframe
their approach to the study of Asian American political
behavior that better integrates the complex dimensions of
the population we know to exist? If we engage in creative
strategies for studying Asian American political behavior,
can we learn new insights about this community and the
degree to which they are being incorporated into the
political system?
The political participation literature’s focus on indi-
vidual-level characteristics alone misses the other impor-
tant structural conditions that can advantage or
disadvantage individuals from engaging in the U.S. polit-
ical system. In the case of Asian Americans, the structural
features that strongly condition their political participa-
tion are naturalization and registration. Although scholars
of Asian American politics have long highlighted this
argument (see, for example, Lien 2001; Wong et al.
2011), empirical analyses typically account for these
structural features by including control variables in a
multivariate model. Being an American citizen is thus
conceived of as an individual-level resource for participa-
tion in politics. This approach is appealing inasmuch as
identifying a positive and statistically significant coeffi-
cient on a dummy variable denoting citizenship can be
843342PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919843342Political Research QuarterlyMasuoka et al.
1University of California, Los Angeles, USA
2Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
3University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA
Corresponding Author:
Natalie Masuoka, Department of Political Science, Bunche Hall,
University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.
New Asian American Voters:
Political Incorporation and
Participation in 2016
Natalie Masuoka1, Kumar Ramanathan2, and Jane Junn3
In 2016, Asian Americans represented the fastest growing racial minority group in the United States largely due to
the flow of new immigration. As a result, Asian Americans are poised to be the next major bloc of new voters in the
electorate. Yet, as a largely new immigrant group, institutional barriers—in particular, naturalization and registration—
are important factors which need to be more thoroughly taken into account when explaining Asian American
participation patterns. In this article, we show how scholars can adopt a different strategy of analysis that recognizes
both institutional barriers to political participation through immigrant status and variation across national origin group.
We argue that structural impediments to participation and national origin differences have not been fully accounted
for in previous explanations of Asian American political participation. Our analysis shows that when Asian Americans
are disaggregated by incorporation status (being registered to vote, eligible but not registered to vote, or noncitizen),
we gain new insights about the factors that predict political participation. The findings from an analysis of 2016 election
data feature the unique behaviors of Filipinos, Asian Indians, and the Vietnamese and highlight that second-generation
Asian Americans are not necessarily more participatory than their immigrant counterparts.
Asian American politics, 2016 election, voting, nonvoting behavior, immigration

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