Unpacking Identity: Opportunities and Constraints for Cross-Racial Collaboration
We argue that two factors are important for cross-racial coalition building: policy convergence in key issue arenas and perceived interest alignment with other racial groups. Drawing on the 2016 National Asian American Survey, we examine two of the most salient issues Asian Americans consistently rate as among the most important: immigration and economic policy. Using principal component analysis, we plot mean scores by group to analyze national-origin clustering along these two dimensions. Next, we analyze national-origin differences in perceived interest alignment with Blacks and Latinos. Combining these two factors, we identify clusters of groups that have a strong potential for cross-racial coalition building and that face greater constraints. In sum, we propose a theoretical framework for understanding cross-racial coalition building that includes disaggregating Asian Americans by national origin, and then identify which national-origin groups have the greater opportunity to form such coalitions.
Asian American, policy preferences, national origin, coalition building
Demographic change is a distinguishing feature of the United States today. The shifting composition of racial and ethnic groups, driven largely by immigration, has led to speculation about the future of ethnic coalitions and race relations. Developing multiracial coalitions can be a powerful way to bring about meaningful, lasting change. In the mid-to late 1990s, multiracial coalitions were credited with increasing voting rights, mitigating the harmful effects of segregation, and improving conomic opportunities for people of color (Richeson 2015). More recent examples inlcude opposing police brutality and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement (Arora, Stout, and Kretschmer 2020). As Jennifer Richeson (2015) succinctly puts it, “it is when groups come together that real change becomes possible.”
Although a significant number of studies have considered the prospects for coalition building between African Americans and Latinos (Jones-Correa 2011; Kaufman 2003; McClain et al. 2006 [End Page 93] ; Morin, Sanchez, and Barreto 2011; Jones-Correa, Wallace, and Zepeda-Milan 2016), the potential role of Asian Americans in a rainbow coalition is less developed. The opportunity for bringing Asian Americans into cross-racial coalitions was highlighted by the 2016 presidential election. Although Asian American voters have exhibited a persistent pattern of nonpartisanship (Le and Ong 2018), studies found that most joined the majority of African Americans and Latinos in supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton (Masuoka et al. 2018), some exit polls finding Asian American support at 77 percent, outpacing even Latino support for Clinton.1 In this study, rather than emphasizing partisanship or candidate vote selection, which prior scholarship has shown to be a fluid and complex construct in immigrant communities (Hajnal and Lee 2011), we instead focus on attitudes toward specific policies and the extent to which groups perceive their interests as being aligned. We argue that commonalities in policy positions and perceptions of interest alignment represent opportunities for the development of cross-racial collaboration and coalition building.
To assert that Asian Americans are not a monolith has been a major aim of the social scientific literature (Tam 1995). Recent scholarship finds that even now, among most Americans, the default view of Asian American is East Asians who are recent immigrants (Lee and Ramakrishnan 2020). Yet many studies that consider variations in political behavior across racial groups do so by comparing African Americans and Latinos with Asian Americans as an aggregated, panethnic group (see, for example, Fraga 2016; Schildkraut 2013; Phoenix and Arora 2018). Failure to disaggregate and examine Asian Americans by their national-origin subgroup may mask important distinctions. Although panethnic identity is an essential component of the Asian American experience, that identity is not derived exclusively from a national-origin identity (Okamoto 2014). The study of Asian Americans by national-origin subgroup therefore remains prudent. Rather than asking whether opportunities exist for panethnic Asian Americans to form coalitions with African Americans and Latinos, we attempt to be more precise in our examination. We instead ask which Asian national-origin subgroups have the greatest potential for coalition building with Blacks and Latinos based on commonality of policy positions and perceived interest alignment.
We theorize that examining Asian American subgroups based on national origin and immigrant generation will identify clusters that have more liberal policy preferences and other clusters with more conservative policy leanings, which add additional dimensions to our understanding of Asian American public opinion and signal potential opportunities and constraints for cross-racial collaboration. As discussed in other articles in this issue, most prominently in Janelle Wong and Sono Shah’s article, national origin and generation are two of the many meaningful cleavages in the AAPI community. We therefore also examine factors such as socioeconomic status, party identification, and experiences with discrimination in our regression analysis.
Using principal component analyses (PCA) to develop issue dimensions from survey responses from the 2016 National Asian American Survey, we calculate factor scores along two broad dimensions: economic policy and immigration policy. To unpack the panethnic Asian American identity, we identify meaningful differences between Asian American national-origin subgroups. For example, we find that Pakistani, Hmong, and Bangladeshi Americans hold consistently liberal positions on key policy dimensions, and that Korean, Japanese, and Chinese Americans are more conservative. Second, we examine the extent to which members of different subgroups perceive their interests as being aligned with other racial or ethnic groups. Our findings indicate that Asian American national-origin subgroups that are most similar to Blacks and Latinos on the economic and immigration policy dimensions are also the most likely to view their interests as being aligned. We contend that these groups have the greatest opportunity for collaboration and coalition [End Page 94] partnership with Blacks and Latinos on issues of economic justice and immigration reform. Meanwhile, Asian American national-origin subgroups that are dissimilar on economic and immigration policy dimensions and low in perceived interest alignment have greater constraints in building cross-racial coalitions in these particular policy arenas.
COMMONALITY, PERCEPTION, AND COLLABORATION
Many factors, including organizational infrastructure and mass public opinion, play a role in collective action and the development of coalitions. Indeed, scholars have long recognized the importance of organizations in collective action (Tilly 1978) and the development of cross-racial coalitions (Okamoto, Feldman, and Gast 2013). In interviews with leaders of Asian American community-based organizations in San Francisco, Dina Okamoto, Valerie Feldman, and Melanie Gast (2013) find that funding incentives and organizational survival help encourage cross-racial efforts between Asian American communities and other racial groups. Scholars have also emphasized the importance of leadership dynamics and the development of meaningful relationship and trust between communities and organizations (Oliver and Grant 1995; Saito and Park 2000).
Research that considers the role of mass public opinion in collaboration and coalitions, though, is far less developed. Shared ideology, interests, and opinions have all been found to be important precursors to the formation of cross-racial collaboration (Van Dyke and McCammon 2010; Staggenborg 2010). To form an effective coalition, communities need shared interests, goals, or common threats to rally around.
In recent years, the number of race-based attacks has risen dramatically, from anti-immigrant policies to high-profile police killings to rhetorical attacks from elites. Resistance movements to these attacks have shown potential for cross-racial coalition building, most notably with Asian American and Latinx communities rallying with African Americans to support the Black Lives Matter movement (Mosley 2020). Given the level of racial upheaval and race-based attacks that communities have felt in recent years, the potential for cross-racial coalition building continues to grow. As such, we take as our task identifying places of policy convergence between minority groups. We theorize that shared interests and a perception of commonality are the antecedents to greater cooperation and collaboration.
Paula McClain (1993) theorizes three potential pathways for relationships between minority groups. First, groups can have interests that are independent of one another, such as Indian Americans who are concerned with the creation of Hindu temples in the United States (Mazumdar and Mazumdar 2006) or the movement to secure citizenship and redress for Filipino veterans who supported the United States during World War II (Raimundo 2010). Second, a zero-sum scenario in which groups hold competing interests is a possibility for interracial relations. Examples of competing interests resulting in conflict between Asian Americans and other racial groups are numerous. For example, Chinese and Mexican American communities opposed a desegregation lawsuit filed by the NAACP in the 1970s because they viewed the lawsuit as clashing with their interest in bilingual education (Brilliant 2010). The history of conflict between Korean American and Black communities in Los Angeles and other urban areas is well documented (Kim 2003). More recent conflicts have taken place between Chinese American and other Asian American organizations and Black organizations over affirmative action (Kim 2018). Yet these conflicts can obscure major national-origin and generational cleavages among Asian Americans. Indeed, almost three-quarters of non–Chinese Asian Americans support affirmative action policies (Ramakrishnan and Wong 2018) and support is particularly high among second-generation and later Asian Americans (Lee and Tran 2019).
A third scenario, however, is possible, in which minorities may attempt to cooperate and reap benefits from joint political action if they conclude that they share common interests. In his study of race relations in Los Angeles, Raphael Sonenshein (1993) argues that the primary basis for political coalitions between racial groups was ideological and that although shared interests may not be enough for intergroup [End Page 95] cooperation, they were a necessary component. Indeed, Bindi Shah (2008) argues that the potential for cross-racial coalitions is “based on political commitments and shared interests” (464). These conceptualizations of interracial or interethnic collaboration are grounded in a more basic “issue engagement theory,” which contends that substantive policy concerns can play an essential role in motivating political activity (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995).
In this vein, numerous studies have sought to identify commonalities between groups. The group consciousness literature, for example, argues that shared perceptions and experiences of discrimination can foster feelings of commonality and linked fate (Sanchez 2006). In their assessment of immigrant rights marches of 2006, Michael Jones-Correa, Sophia Wallace, and Chris Zepeda-Milan (2016) find that the reinforcement and politicization of in-group identities for Latinos lead to a sense of commonality and perception of interest alignment with African Americans. Similarly, Leland Saito (1998) finds that shared interests and similar histories of discrimination led Asian Americans and Latinos in the 1980s and 1990s in Los Angeles to form interracial coalitions around issues of redistricting and anti-immigrant legislation. Maneesh Arora and Christopher Stout (2019) find that exposure to positive messages about the Black Lives Matter movement predicted greater levels of support for the movement, and more positive views of African Americans among Asian American respondents. Thus, although interracial collaboration and coalition building involves on-the-ground community organizing and relationship building, we contend that shared interests and a perception of commonality are the antecedents to greater cooperation and collaboration.
This is especially true of policy arenas that matter deeply to a large proportion of each racial group. Economic and immigration policy are two issues that Asian American voters consistently rank among the most important national issues. A report of the 2018 election issued by APIAVote and APIA Data finds that 50 percent of Asian American voters reported jobs and the economy as extremely important to their vote decision and 36 percent said immigration was. Asian American voters, however, are relatively split in their view of which party has the advantage on these issues. Democrats hold a 14 point lead on immigration (a smaller gap than any other issue on which the party holds an advantage) and Republicans have a 6 point lead in jobs and the economy.
Asian American activism has a history around economic and immigration policy. In a review, Daryl Maeda (2016) shows that Asian American groups in communities around the country, working together and sometimes with other racial groups, organized around issues of labor, land, housing, social services, and employment. Indeed, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and Indian Americans had been participating in struggles for fairer wages and better working conditions long before the height of the Asian American movement in the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, Asian Americans have participated in cross-racial collaborations against wage theft. A 2010 survey of nearly two thousand Latino, Black, Chinese, and Korean low-wage workers identified the shared interests and opinions of these affected communities (Milkman, Gonzales, and Narro 2010). In California, the report led to cross-racial organizing leading to the eventual passage of the Fair Days Pay Day (SB588) in California in 2015 (Kirkham 2015). Largely due to a long history of exclusionary immigration policies and the construction of the “forever foreigner” stereotype, immigration has long been an arena for activism among many Asian Americans (Aguirre and Lio 2008) and continues to be a flashpoint issue today.2
Moreover, both issue arenas can provide ample opportunity for cross-racial coalition building with Blacks and Latinos. Examples of Asian American groups working together with other racial groups on immigration issues (Saito 1998; Saito and Park 2000) and economic issues are also numerous (Saito and Park 2000; Kim and Lee 2001). Finally, both issue areas are likely to garner a great deal of focus in the 2020 [End Page 96]
election and beyond. Therefore, economic and immigration policies are not only two of the most important issues arenas for Asian American voters, but also ripe for cross-racial coalition building if policy preferences converge and these distinct groups perceive interest alignment.
EXAMINING ASIAN AMERICAN POLICY ATTITUDES AND PERCEIVED INTEREST ALIGNMENT
From 2000 to 2010, the Asian American population grew by 46 percent, and from 2010 to 2015 by 18 percent (Ramakrishnan et al. 2017). Further, a recent report of the 2016 National Asian American Survey (NAAS) finds that the number of eligible Asian American voters has increased by more than one million in each of the last three election cycles. Not only are Asian Americans the fastest growing racial group in the United States, they are rapidly being integrated into the electorate. Moreover, engagement in the voting process, and interest in politics generally, has expanded in recent years. According to a report from AAPI Data, voter turnout among Asian Americans was 42 percent in 2018, up from 28 percent in 2014 (Ramakrishnan, Shah, and Shao 2019).
Asian Americans are an increasingly important part of the U.S. electorate, and a potentially key group in the so-called rainbow coalition. Indeed, Asian Americans have voted largely Democratic in recent election cycles, similar to other minority groups like Blacks and Latinos (Masuoka et al. 2018; Ramakrishnan 2014). But less is known about how Asian Americans perceive their political interests relative to these other groups. In other words, less is known about whether interest alignment between Asian Americans and Blacks and Latinos expands beyond electoral choice. Karthick Ramakrishnan (2014) examines this question using the 2008 and 2012 NAAS. If looking only at the data on perceived interest alignment, he writes, we would conclude that “Asian American commitment to the Obama coalition is temporary and relatively shallow” (523). Although he goes on to argue that other factors suggest greater potential for cross-racial coalition building, it is telling that levels of perceived interest alignment were low enough to offer that conclusion. Yet our analysis of the 2016 NAAS suggests major changes in the last few years. Indeed, figure 1 demonstrates that the percentage of Asian Americans who perceive a lot or some in common with Latinos in 2016 is 13 percentage points higher than 2012 or 2008, and the percentage who perceive a lot or some in common with Blacks is 17 points higher. Thus, the potential for coalition building is higher given the higher rates of perceived interest alignment.
To further identify areas of commonality across racial groups, we examine attitudes toward [End Page 97] public policy issues to identify areas of cross-racial policy convergence. To date, the empirical analysis of Asian American public policy preferences is relatively underdeveloped in the scholarly literature. Following racial tensions in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, several studies examined Asian American policy attitudes to shed light on similarities and differences with African Americans, Latinos, and Whites (Bobo and Johnson 2000; Kim and Lee 2001). Capturing Asian American attitudes and opinions, however, is always problematic. Too often Asian Americans are excluded from national surveys that are not linguistically appropriate. The NAAS offers a unique opportunity to extensively examine the contours of Asian American public opinion on key policy issues by subgroups based on national origin and immigrant generation. The 2008 and 2012 surveys provided an essential opportunity for researchers to examine Asian American public policy preferences and disaggregate preferences based on national origin and nativity (Wong et al. 2011). Building on this work, we disaggregate Asian American policy preferences by national origin and nativity to systematically identify points of convergence between groups. We theorize that doing so will identify clusters of subgroups with more liberal policy preferences and others with more conservative leanings. Analysis of AAPI policy preferences have found substantial variation by national origin and acculturation (Wong et al. 2011), though this variation has not been analyzed systematically. Despite a relative lack of scholarship on AAPI policy preferences, that on Latinos, a similarly diverse panethnic group with a substantial proportion of foreign born, guides our theoretical expectations. Analysis of Latino policy preferences have found substantial variation by national origin (De La Garza et al. 1992), acculturation (Branton 2007), and group con sciousness (Sanchez 2006; Sanchez and Vargas 2016). We therefore interrogate policy preferences based on national origin, immigrant generation, and party identification.
Finding these areas of policy convergence, combined with perceived interest alignment, provides two important benefits. First, it helps identify which Asian American communities have high potential for cross-racial coalition building. Which national-origin groups are the most natural allies for cross-racial coalitions? Do cleavages like nativity and party identification matter? Second, it helps identify policy arenas in which these Asian American groups are most likely to form coalitions and work cross-racially.
We posit that potential for cross-racial coalition building consists of two major ingredients: policy convergence on key policy issues and perceived interest alignment. To measure policy preferences and interest alignment among the broader AAPI community, we turn to the 2016 National Asian American Survey. The 2016 NAAS is an ideal data source for four main reasons. First, it includes a variety of policy-related questions that allow us to calculate issue dimensions. Second, it includes a question asking Asian Americans how much they have in common with Blacks and Latinos in terms of government services, political power, and representation. Third, it includes a large, nationally representative sample of Asian American respondents, which allows us to investigate heterogeneity in policy preferences and perceived interest alignment based on national origin, nativity, gender, class, party identification, strength of group identity, and residence. Fourth, it includes nationally representative samples of Blacks and Latinos to allow for cross-racial and cross-ethnic comparisons.
We first used principal component analysis (PCA) to fit related survey questions into issue dimensions. PCA is a statistical technique that reduces multiple variables into specific dimensions by “creating new uncorrelated variables that successively maximize variance” (Jolliffe and Cadima 2016). The benefit of PCA is that it increases the interpretability of the data while minimizing information loss. Using the PCA results, we then calculated factor scores for two broad issue dimensions: economic policy and immigration policy. Scores are calculated such that higher scores correspond to the most liberal policy views and lower scores to the most conservative views. Many studies indicate that [End Page 98] issue dimensions, as opposed to single policy issues, provide a “meaningful framework for electoral choice” (Dalton 2019, 6; see also Ansolabehere, Rodden, and Snyder 2008). For Asian Americans, economic and immigration views based on broad issue dimensions are likely more relevant to electoral preferences and political behavior than any specific economic or immigration issue.
We then plot mean scores of Asian American national-origin groups, Blacks, and Latinos on the two issue dimensions. This serves two purposes. First, we can examine variation in policy preferences among Asian American national-origin groups. Second, we can measure proximity of these groups’ scores on the issue dimensions to the scores of Blacks and Latinos to determine the extent to which cross-racial policy convergence on economic and immigration policy exists.
The second ingredient in the recipe for cross-racial coalition building is perceived interest alignment, which we measure using the following question, “Thinking about government services, political power and representation, would you say [RACES] have a lot in common, some, little in common, or nothing at all in common with.” Each group in the NAAS is asked about every other group. For example, Asian American respondents are asked the question about Blacks, Latinos, and Whites. We coded this variable with the highest score corresponding to perceiving “a lot in common” and the lowest to “nothing at all in common.” We then plot mean commonality scores for Asian American national-origin groups to assess variation in perceived interest alignment with Blacks and Latinos among these groups.
Finally, we create cluster maps that plot Asian American national-origin groups mean scores on each issue dimension on the x-axis and their perceived interest alignment scores with Blacks and Latinos on the y-axis. We posit that national-origin groups whose issue dimension scores are similar to Blacks and Latinos, and have high perceived interest alignment scores, have the greatest opportunity for coalition building with these groups. Conversely, the national-origin groups whose issue dimension scores are dissimilar to Blacks and Latinos, and who have low perceived interest alignment scores, likely face the most constraints (see appendix).
The first set of results compares mean factor scores on the two issue dimensions among all of the Asian American national-origin groups, Blacks, and Latinos. Figure 2 displays mean factor scores and standard errors for the economic policy dimension. The results show that Black Americans have the most liberal economic policy views and White Americans the most conservative. Variation is considerable in economic policy views among Asian American national-origin groups, ranging from Japanese Americans as most conservative to Pakistani Americans, who are most liberal. Pakistani Americans’ economic policy views are more similar to those of Black Americans. Several other groups, notably Bangladeshi, Vietnamese, Hmong, and Indian Americans have views similar to those of Latinos, and are only somewhat more conservative than Blacks. In terms of policy convergence, these particular Asian American national-origin groups have the greatest opportunity for cross-racial coalition building with Blacks and Latinos on economic policy issues. Groups such as Japanese, Chinese, and Cambodian Americans face greater constraints.
Figure 3 displays mean factor scores and standard errors for the immigration policy dimension. On this scale, Latinos, on average, hold the most liberal policy views. Hmong, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi Americans are closest to Latinos and, at least in terms of policy convergence, make the most natural allies on immigration policy issues. Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese Americans in particular appear to be most conservative on immigration policy, and the furthest from Latinos. The mean score for Blacks is closer to the sample mean and similar to mean scores for Filipino and Cambodian Americans.
The next set of results come from survey weighted ordinary least squares (OLS) regression models in which we examine the relationship between nativity, party identification, education level, and income level on policy preferences among the ten largest Asian American [End Page 99]
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national-origin groups.3 The dependent variable in the models in tables 1 and 2 are the factor scores on the economic policy dimension. Several patterns are evident from the findings. First, identifying as a Republican predicts more conservative scores on the economic policy dimension. Income has a somewhat mixed effect. For most groups (Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese Americans), higher income predicts more conservative economic policy preferences. But for Bangladeshi Americans, higher income predicts more liberal [End Page 101]
views. The results for foreign born and education are also mixed. Foreign-born Korean Americans have more liberal views on economic policy and foreign-born Vietnamese Americans have more conservative views. Similarly, Japanese Americans with bachelor’s degrees have more liberal views than their coethnic counterparts without bachelor’s degrees, but the effect is reversed for Pakistani Americans. Indeed, Pakistani Americans have the most liberal views of any national-origin group and this seems to be driven primarily by group members who do not have bachelor’s degrees.
Tables 3 and 4 display regression results for each national-origin group for the immigration policy dimension. Here we see a similar pattern for party identification. Identifying as a Republican predicts more conservative immigration policy preferences among Filipino, Hmong, Indian, and Japanese Americans. Foreign-born Filipino, Indian, Korean, and Pakistani Americans are more liberal on immigration than [End Page 102]
their native-born coethnic counterparts. Education is mixed, with college degrees predicting more liberal views among Chinese and Vietnamese Americans but more conservative ones among Hmong and Indian Americans. Finally, higher income predicts more liberal views among Vietnamese Americans.
In sum, variation is substantial among Asian American national-origin groups on economic and immigration policy preferences. Some groups are clustered close to Blacks and Latinos in these policy arenas and others are more closely aligned with Whites. Findings from regression models help indicate which subgroups among each national-origin group are more liberal and which are more conservative on both policy dimensions. Again, variation is substantial, certain covariates, such as income and education, having differing effects. Findings from the regression models further clarify how opportunities and constraints for cross-racial coalition building play out among Asian American national-origin groups.
PERCEIVED INTEREST ALIGNMENT
The second major factor for cross-racial coalition building is perceived interest alignment. Figure 4 displays mean perceived interest alignment with Black Americans among the ten most populous Asian American national-origin groups. Higher scores indicate greater perceived interest alignment and lower scores the opposite. Variation is substantial among the groups. In particular, we see that Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Hmong respondents perceive high interest alignment. Interestingly, Japanese, Chinese, and Cambodian respondents have the lowest levels of perceived interest alignment with Blacks.
Figure 5 displays mean perceived interest alignment with Latinos. There are striking similarities and differences between the two figures. Bangladeshi and Hmong Americans have among the highest perceived interest alignment with both groups while Cambodian, Chinese, and Japanese Americans have the lowest perceived interest alignment for both. But Pakistani Americans are more likely to perceive commonality with Blacks than Latinos.
Tables 5, 6, 7, and 8 present results from OLS regression models that examine the relationship between nativity, party identification, education, and income on perceived interest alignment with Blacks (tables 5 and 6) and Latinos (tables 7 and 8). The clearest pattern we can glean is that native-born respondents tend to perceive greater commonality with both groups than their foreign-born coethnic counterparts. Higher levels of education predict higher perceptions of commonality with Blacks among Cambodian and Vietnamese Americans. Identifying as Independent predicts lower levels of commonality with Blacks among Filipino and Japanese Americans. Identifying as an Independent [End Page 103]
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has a similarly negative effect on perceptions of commonality with Latinos among Indian, Japanese, and Vietnamese Americans (though it has the opposite effect for Hmong Americans). Similar to previous regression results, the findings from tables 5 through 8 provide greater clarity for national-origin groups most likely to perceive cross-racial commonality.
Figure 6 is a cluster map of the relationship between scores on the economic policy dimension and commonality with Blacks. We display the results this way because Blacks hold the most liberal economic policy views. From it, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Americans clearly have similar economic policy preferences and high perceived interest alignment with Black Americans. These two ingredients, we posit, are most important for the development of coalitions. We therefore contend that these groups have a strong potential for coalition building. On the other end of the spectrum, Cambodian, Chinese, and Japanese Americans may face the most constraints because policy convergence is less and perceived interest alignment is lower.
Figure 7 is a similar cluster map of the relationship between scores on the immigration policy dimension and commonality with Latinos. As earlier, we include commonality with Latinos because they are most liberal on immigration policy. We contend that Hmong and Bangladeshi Americans have strong potential for coalition building with Latinos because they have similar immigration policy preferences and high perceived interest alignment. Meanwhile, Chinese Americans have more conservative views on immigration policy and lower perceived interest alignment so may face greater constraints.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
Jesse Jackson’s rainbow coalition of the 1980s fostered a vision of a multiracial and multicultural America. Since that time, scholarship on the opportunities for and constraints on building cross-racial alliances has grown. This multifaceted body of work has provided significant insights on questions of commonality and perception and has largely emphasized collaboration between African Americans and Latinos. Rapid and ongoing demographic change, however, suggests that the Black-Brown paradigm will continue to evolve. For two decades, Asian Americans have been the fastest growing immigrant group in the country and are expected to be the largest immigrant group in the nation by 2055 (Pew Research Center 2015). But Asian Americans are not a monolith and must be studied and understood both as a panethnic group and in their national-origin subgroups.
We find that the disaggregation of Asian Americans leads to natural alliances on issues of economic and immigration policy. Pakistani [End Page 106]
and Bangladeshi Americans appear to have the greatest opportunities for cross-racial collaboration with Blacks on economic policy whereas Hmong and Bangladeshi Americans do with Latinos on immigration policy given overlap in policy preferences and high perceived interest alignment. Specifically, Pakistani Americans without college degrees and Bangladeshi Americans who identify as Democrats are natural allies for Blacks on economic policy issues. Similarly, Bangladeshi Americans without college degrees and Hmong Americans who identify as Democrats are strongly aligned with Latinos on immigration policy. Thus we are able to identify clusters of Asian American subgroups closely aligned with other racial minority groups in two policy arenas that are consistently viewed as the most crucial among the Asian American community.
Although the disaggregation of Asian American national-origin groups allows for a rich information environment that includes many considerations for opportunities and constraints on cross-racial coalition building, it does not accommodate all potential considerations. For example, given limitations in data availability, we were unable to disaggregate Latinos by national origin. Future studies can examine coalition building with a more granular view of Latinos by similarly disaggregating Mexican, Salvadoran, Puerto Rican, or Cuban subgroups. Similarly, we acknowledge that coalition building efforts are typically contextual and localized at the neighborhood level (Oliver and Wong 2003). Similarly, although policy convergence and perception of interest alignment are essential foundations for coalition building, peer-to-peer contact also strongly influences coalition outcomes. Geocoded data, not currently available, would allow a second stage of research to map not only convergence of attitudes by groups but to contextualize their physical location to one another and advance additional opportunities and constraints for collaboration. Nevertheless, in the era of social media organizing, understanding commonality between groups can still be consequential for cross-racial collaboration (Boulianne 2015).
In this study, we identify opportunities and constraints for Asian American participation in cross-racial coalition building efforts. In 2008 and 2012, Asian Americans voted in record numbers to support the United States’ first Black president. Their vote participation was maintained and strengthened in 2016, a strong majority of Asian Americans joining African Americans and Latinos to support Hillary Clinton. Although vote choice and partisanship offer insights into the possibility of Asian American participation with Latinos and African Americans, our study takes the next step to examine convergence on key public policy areas and identifies potential pathways for Asian Americans to engage more fully in cross-racial coalition building in the future. [End Page 107]
Maneesh Arora is assistant professor at Wellesley College, United States.
Sara Sadhwani is assistant professor at Pomona College, United States.
Sono Shah is a computational social scientist at the Pew Research Center, United States.
APPENDIX. ECONOMIC POLICY DIMENSION
Question Text: This set of items ask about the role of the U.S. federal government in the economy and your views on policies related to the economy and inequality. For each statement below, please indicate whether you strongly agree, somewhat agree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree.
The federal government should do more to reduce income differences between the richest and the poorest households.
The federal government should do more to regulate banks.
The federal government should raise the minimum wage to allow every working American a decent standard of living.
The federal government should increase income taxes on people making over a million dollars a year.
The federal government should enact major new spending that would help undergraduates pay tuition at public colleges without needing loans.
Immigration Policy Dimension: Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statements. [PROBE: Would you say you strongly or somewhat?]
Undocumented or illegal immigrants should be allowed to have an opportunity to eventually become U.S. citizens.
Congress needs to increase the number of work visas it issues every year.
Congress needs to increase the number of family visas it issues every year.
States should provide driver’s licenses to all residents, regardless of their immigration status.
The authors thank the other participants of the Russell Sage Foundation’s Asian Americans: Diversity and Heterogeneity conference for their helpful and incisive comments.
2. Asian Americans Advancing Justice, “Immigration and Immigration Rights,” n.d., https://www.advancingjustice-aajc.org/immigration-and-immigrant-rights (accessed November 4, 2020).
3. For unweighted results, see the online appendix (https://www.rsfjournal.org/content/7/2/93/tab-supplemental).
Open Access Policy: RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is an open access journal. This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.