In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Asian American Mobilization and Political Identities

  • Introduction
  • Transnationalism
  • Immigration Pathways and Immigrant Cohort Effects
  • Social Exclusion, Discrimination, and Racial Context
  • Partisan Identities
  • Asian American Candidates and Campaign Contributions
  • Cross-Racial Collaboration and Conflict

Political Science Asian American Mobilization and Political Identities
Sara Sadhwani, Jane Junn
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0326


Immigrants from Asia have been a defining feature of demographic change over the last quarter century in the United States. The 2000 US Census identified Asian Americans as the fastest growing immigrant group in the nation and the Pew Research Center estimates that Asian Americans will become the largest immigrant group in the country by 2055. With that growth has come the development of a vibrant scholarly literature examining Asian American political participation in the United States. This article is designed to provide an overview of the major foundational studies that explore Asian American political behavior, including mobilization and participation in American politics. The earliest research began in the fields of political science and sociology and consider the viability of a panethnic Asian American identity as a unit of analysis for group-based behavior and political interests. Numerous scholars have considered the circumstances under which panethnic Asian American identity can be activated toward group behavior, and how differences in national origin can lead to variations in behavioral outcomes. Participation in American politics, however, is rooted in many other factors such as socioeconomics, one’s experience as an immigrant, ties to the home country, and structural barriers to activism. Individual resources have long been considered an essential component to understanding political participation. Yet, Asian Americans present a puzzle in American politics, evincing higher education and income while participating in politics at a more modest rate. In response to this puzzle, scholars have theorized that structural conditions and the experience faced by Asian immigrants are powerful mechanisms in understanding the determinants of Asian American political participation. Once considered to have relatively weak partisan attachment and little interaction with the two major parties in the United States, studies that examine the development of partisan attachment among Asian Americans are explored which, more recently, find that a growing majority of Asian Americans have shown a preference for the Democratic Party. Finally, we detail studies examining the conditions under which Asian American candidates emerge and are successful, the co-ethnic electorate who supports them, and conclude by detailing the opportunities and constraints for cross-racial collaboration and conflict.

Foundational Studies

Foundational to the development of Asian American politics as a scholarly field is the work of Don Nakanishi (Nakanishi 1985, Nakanishi 1991, and Nakanishi and Lai 2003, all cited under Historical Foundations), who wrote extensively on the development of a panethnic Asian American identity and the role Asian Americans could play in US politics, while Takaki 1989 offers the definitive history of Asians in America and the development of the “model minority” stereotype often used to describe the community. Lien 1994, Lien 2001, and Tam 1995 (all cited under Participatory Foundations) drew upon Nakanishi’s insights to further consider the contours of ethnic identity and the extent to which it matters for political behavior outcomes. In addition to the US Census capturing information about the growth of Asian Americans, the creation of surveys of Asian Americans has been transformative to the study of Asian American political identities and mobilization. Lien, et al. 2004 considers the formation of a panethnic identity and the foundations of partisanship, while Wong, et al. 2011 (cited under Participatory Foundations) documents Asian American participation using the landmark National Asian American Survey of 2008. Finally, using case studies, several scholars consider the role of Asian Americans in a changing America. Seito 1998 (cited under Participatory Foundations) examines the effect of demographic change and the interactions between Asian Americans, Latinos, and Whites in Suburban Los Angeles. Kim 2000 considers Black and Korean conflict in New York City, while Wong 2006 (both cited under Participatory Foundations) analyzes Chinese and Mexican immigrants in New York and Los Angeles. These studies along with Masuoka and Junn 2013 (cited under Participatory Foundations) consider the structural hierarchy of American society and the placement of Asian Americans in it.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.