Asian Americans have typically formed a crucial and credible voting bloc for Democrats in recent years, helping the party maintain its political dominance in liberal states like New York.
But the Republicans shattered that assumption in November when they came close to winning the governor’s race in New York for the first time in 15 years.
Now Democrats are trying to determine how they can stop – and if possible reverse – the growing tide of Asian American voters turning away from the party feeling their concerns are being ignored.
Interviews with more than 20 Asian voters, most of them Chinese-Americans who had historically voted Democrats but did not vote in 2022, revealed that many of them went with Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin, albeit reluctantly, largely due to concerns. crime.
Chinese-American Karen Wang, 48, a lifelong Democrat from Queens, said she has never felt more insecure than she does these days. “As an Asian, I felt like I had a bigger target on my back,” she said.
“My vote,” he added, “was just a message to Democrats: Don’t underestimate my vote.”
Alongside the crime, Asian-American voters expressed concern over former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to change the city’s residency admissions process.
Democratic leaders, including Governor Kathy Hochul, have acknowledged their party’s failure to deliver an effective message on public safety against the Republicans’ hard-line platform against crime, which has resonated not only with Asian Americans but with the statewide electoral community.
In Flushing, Queens, home to one of New York City’s liveliest Chinatowns, stark leaflets in English and Chinese hung on the walls, urging passersby to “vote for the Republicans”, blaming Democrats for illegal immigration and increased crime ahead of the November election. .
A pamphlet portrayed Ms. Hochul as anti-police and tried to link her to the death of Christina Yuna Lee, who was stabbed to death more than 40 times by a homeless man in her Manhattan Chinatown apartment last February.
A group of 13 Chinese-American friends, mostly retired union workers, met regularly to discuss the election before voting on Zoom. A mix of Republicans, Democrats and political independents all voted for Mr. Zeldin.
Although Mr. Zeldin lost, his support among Asian American voters helped other Republican candidates win surprise victories in non-voting legislative races.
In one of the south Brooklyn boroughs where the majority of Asian American voters live, 36-year Democratic incumbent Peter J. Abbate Jr. lost to Lester Chang, the first Asian American Republican to enter the State Legislature.
However, Mr. Chang’s entry was marred by questions about his legal residence, prompting the ruling House Democrats to consider deporting him. Ultimately, one lawmaker, with Councilor Ron Kim, decided not to ask for his deportation, stating that such a move would provoke a “strong reaction from the Asian community”.
For Democrats, mending ties with Asian American voters, who make up about 15 percent of New York City’s population and make up the state’s fastest growing ethnic group, can be a difficult but critical challenge given the important role such voters will play. next elections
State Senator John Liu, a Queens Democrat, said Mr. Zeldin’s campaign message on crime “definitely had better resonance” and that Democrats needed to improve the way they communicated with Asian Americans, especially on education policy.
“Democrats can start by understanding the Asian American perspective more deeply,” said Mr. Liu, who was born in Taiwan. “The broader issue is that many of the social justice issues in this country are still viewed through a Black and white lens, and Asian Americans go unnoticed by that lens and therefore feel completely marginalized.”
Republicans have performed well in parts of New York City with the largest Asian American populations, attracting voters who say they are primarily concerned with public safety amid high-profile hate crimes specifically targeting Asian Americans.
For example, in Assembly District 49, which is predominantly Asian and includes parts of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park and Dyker Heights, Mr. Zeldin won 61 percent of the vote, even though white voters appeared to vote in higher numbers. Mr. Zeldin won by similar margins in a nearby Assembly district in China, which is densely populated and includes Bensonhurst and Gravesend.
In Queens, Mr. Zeldin managed to win 51 percent of the vote in Assembly District 40, which includes Flushing and is about 70 percent Asian: mostly Chinese and Korean immigrants.
Support for Mr. Zeldin, who came within six percent of beating Ms. Hochul, was palpable in these neighborhoods before Election Day, as much of the pro-Republican enthusiasm seemed to grow organically. And posts in support of Mr. Zeldin spread widely on WeChat, a Chinese social media and messaging app widely used by Chinese Americans.
Interviews with Asian American voters revealed that their discontent with the Democratic Party was in many cases rooted and rooted in frustrations over the years. Many said they were disappointed with a party they said had ignored their support and strayed too far to the left. They listed Democratic priorities regarding education, criminal justice, and illegal immigration as favoring other minority groups over Asian Americans, and blamed Democratic policies for the rise in certain crimes and supporting safe injection sites.
Voters traced their feelings of betrayal in part to a divisive 2018 proposal by a Democrat, Mayor de Blasio, to change the admissions process for the city’s elite high schools, many of which are predominantly Asian-American, to increase enrollment between Black and Hispanic. students.
The plan would effectively reduce the number of Asian American students enrolled in elite schools, causing some Asian Americans to think Democrats were targeting them.
Mayor Eric Adams, Mr. de Blasio’s successor, has moved away from his predecessor’s plan to diversify the city’s top schools, but the effort has politically mobilized Asian Americans, encouraged parents to be more engaged, and paved the way for Republicans to make their way among aggrieved voters. Indeed, the Asian Wave Alliance, a vocal political club that emerged from the education debate, actively campaigned for Mr. Zeldin.
“Why should I support Democrats who discriminate against me?” “We see Democrats working against Asian communities in the interests of African Americans and Latinos,” said Lailing Yu, 59, a Hong Kong mother whose son graduated from a private high school in 2018.
As a registered Democrat for many years, Ms. Lu changed her party registration to Republican last year and voted for Mr. Zeldin. He has marked a string of recent incidents of street violence, including a stranger who spat at him while taking out his trash, and says it makes him feel less safe now than he did when he came to the United States 50 years ago.
“I think what upsets me to see Asian Americans deviate to the right is that they are simply affected by fear and fear,” said Grace Meng, a Taiwanese Queens Democrat Representative. “It’s important that we work with the Asian American community, but at the same time, especially during campaigns, we work with our leaders above and below the vote to make sure they listen to and respond to our concerns, which are not just content but outreach.”
Sam Ni, the father of two high school students, started to shift to the right after the high school entry controversy. He described the city’s diversification effort as an attempt to “punish” Asian American students.
Mr. Ni said that fears about subway crimes were disrupting his daily life and driving him further away from the Democratic Party. He said his wife had recently started taking the couple’s son from south Brooklyn to Upper Manhattan to school, forcing him to spend hours in traffic instead of working at the family’s computer store in Sunset Park.
“If I tell my son to take the subway, we’ll be worried about it,” said Mr. Ni, 45, who became a Democrat after immigrating to the United States from China in 2001, but switched parties and voted for President Donald J. Trump in 2020.
This year, Mr. Ni decided to take an active role in getting other Asian Americans to the polls: he helped organize an effort that raised nearly $12,000 to print out-of-vote banners, flyers and bags in English and Chinese.
Banners reading “If you don’t vote, don’t complain”, also spread on WeChat and other social media platforms. The message did not explicitly encourage voters to support Mr. Zeldin, whom Mr. Ni voted for, but the materials were primarily distributed at rallies for Mr. Zeldin in the city’s Chinatowns.
There were also greater powers at play.
A week before the election, Asian American voters in New York City received mail that appeared to be based on race. They accused the Biden administration and left-wing officials of adopting policies regarding job qualifications and college admissions that “massively discriminate against white and Asian Americans.”
The mails, part of a nationally Republican-linked campaign targeting Asian American voters, were distributed by America First Legal, founded by Stephen Miller, a former chief adviser to Mr.
Democratic officials have said they believe many Asian Americans who voted Republican tend to be East Asians, especially Chinese voters who may be more culturally conservative. Republicans may also have found success among first-generation immigrants, who were not so well adjusted to the history of racial inequality that prompted Democrats to enact policies targeted by Republicans, such as reforms to New York’s bail laws.
Mr. Zeldin also took care to meet and raise money with Asian American leaders and activists. The approach helped it win—and in some cases speed up the vote—in many areas with majority Asian American voters, and secured Ms. Hochul’s overwhelming support in the rest of the city.
Despite this, some Asian-American leaders noted that Mr. Zeldin’s almost singular focus on crime—his campaign framed the election in existential terms: “Vote as if your life depends on it, because it does”—has allowed him to increase his numbers in many places. voting groups, including not only Asian Americans but white and suburban voters.
Many Democrat officials noted Ms. Hochul’s effort to rally Asian American voters in the closing weeks of the campaign, but described the effort as too little and too late.
After the election, the governor acknowledged that Democrats had failed to deliver their message about public safety to Asian American voters, adding that “more could have been done to let people know this is a high priority for us.”
“Obviously, this hasn’t been successful in some communities that have heard other voices and seen other messages and seen other advertisements with a contrasting message about our priorities,” Ms Hochul said after signing two bills aimed at curbing hate crimes in November.