[Read this article]
In the 2008 presidential primaries, Barack Obama seemed to have a problem connecting with Asian American voters, as he lost heavily to Hillary Clinton in states such as California and New Jersey. Many speculated that race-based considerations played a significant role in Asian Americans’ overwhelming support for Clinton over Obama, with conjectures built on a limited set of aggregate exit poll data from three states. Race may also have accounted for the high proportion of Asian Americans who in polls said they were undecided heading into the November election. In this article, we analyze the importance of race-based considerations in the Asian American vote, after controlling for other factors such as partisanship, issue preferences, age, and gender. We rely on the National Asian American Survey, a large-scale telephone survey of Asian American voters conducted mostly in the fall of 2008, with interviews in eight languages and with sizable numbers of respondents from the six largest national-origin groups. We find that race-based considerations do indeed help explain the Asian American vote in 2008. Respondents who failed to see political commonality between Asian Americans and Blacks were less likely to vote for Obama in the primary, although other factors, such as age and gender, played a more significant role. Finally, the role of race-based considerations paled in comparison to party identification and issue preferences in the general election, suggesting that election contexts can play an important role in shaping whether or not race is relevant to vote choice.