Posted on November 2, 2018

Republicans Court Asian Voters with a New Message: End Affirmative Action

Michelle Hackman, Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2018

Benjamin Yu, a Chinese immigrant and combat veteran in Lake Forest, Calif., has long resisted identifying with either political party. But this year he finds the Republican message more appealing.


Policies favored by Democrats, such as affirmative action, are “benefiting some of the minority people,” he said. “But when you look deep into the issue, it’s taking the benefits from one group at the expense of others.”

Such views aren’t lost on Republican candidates, who see an opening to win over Asian-American voters against the backdrop of a high-profile lawsuit claiming that Harvard University discriminates against Asian-Americans in its admissions procedures.

Harvard has said in a court filing that eliminating affirmative action would give the biggest boost to white students, increasing their share in a recent admitted class to 48% from 40%. The share of Asian-Americans would rise to 27% from 24%, while African-Americans would drop to 6% from 14%, and Hispanics to 9% from 14%.

Rep. Mimi Walters (R., Calif.), Mr. Yu’s congresswoman, faces a tight re-election contest for her Orange County seat this year and has made affirmative action a top talking point.

She regularly attacks the consideration of race in college admissions. In September, her campaign began distributing mailers featuring a somber-faced young Asian-American woman and a quote from the congresswoman, “Discrimination in higher education is wrong.”


As a bloc, Asian-American voters tend to favor Democrats — 65% voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, while 27% favored President Trump, exit polls showed. And although they are one of the country’s smallest demographic groups, they are also the fastest-growing, making their support a prize sought by both parties.

The politics aren’t simple: Though many Asian-Americans tend to take liberal positions on issues like immigration and gun control, polls show, some conservative activists have gained footholds on certain causes, chiefly against affirmative action.


Overall, Asian-American voters approve of affirmative action in college admissions, polls suggest. In a survey conducted by the University of California, Riverside, 58% of Asian-American voters said the practice is “a good thing, while 18% thought it was bad.

But the poll also shows that the numbers are different among subgroups. Chinese-Americans in particular showed less support for affirmative action, with 38% approving.


In Ms. Walters’s district, a group of Chinese-Americans formed a group called the Orange Club to oppose race-based preferences when California in 2014 weighed a constitutional amendment that would have reintroduced race-based college admissions. The use of affirmative action has been banned at California public schools and colleges since 1996.


Asian-Americans, many of Chinese descent, make up 25% of Ms. Walters’s district, which Hillary Clinton won by five points in 2016. The large minority population has given Democrats hope they can capture the seat.