Our research offers two alternative explanations.

First, there’s race. The feeling of social exclusion stemming from their ethnic background might push Asian Americans away from the Republican Party. Many studies, like Henri Tajfel and John Turner’s work on the psychology of intergroup relations, have shown that one’s identification with a broad category of people—be it on the basis of language, ethnic or racial solidarity or some other trait—is important politically. Republican rhetoric implying that the (non-white) “takers” are plundering the (white) “makers” has cultivated a perception that the Republican Party is less welcoming of minorities. That might help explain why Asian Americans, despite their “maker” status, prefer the Democratic Party—even if the GOP doesn’t discriminate against Asians specifically.

And many Asian-Americans do feel like they don’t get equal treatment. According to the 2008 National Asian American Survey, nearly 40 percent of Asian Americans suffered one of the following forms of racial discrimination in their lifetime: being unfairly denied a job or fired; unfairly denied a promotion at work; unfairly treated by the police; unfairly prevented from renting or buying a home; treated unfairly at a restaurant or other place of service; or been a victim of a hate crime. We found that self-reported racial discrimination was positively correlated with identification with the Democratic Party over the Republican Party.