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Crime Concerns Drove Asian Americans Away From New York Democrats

Asian Americans have typically formed a crucial and reliable voting bloc for Democrats in recent years, helping the party maintain its political dominance in liberal states like New York.

But Republicans shattered that presumption in November when they came within striking distance of winning the governor’s race in New York for the first time in 15 years, buoyed in part by a surge of support among Asian American voters in southern Brooklyn and eastern Queens.

Now, Democrats are trying to determine how they can stem — and, if possible, reverse — the growing tide of Asian American voters drifting away from the party amid a feeling that their concerns are being overlooked.

Interviews with more than 20 voters of Asian descent, many of them Chinese Americans who had historically voted for Democrats but did not in 2022, found that many went with the Republican candidate for governor, Lee Zeldin, even if begrudgingly, largely because of concerns about crime.

One lifelong Democrat from Queens, Karen Wang, 48, who is Chinese American, said she had never felt as unsafe as she did these days. “Being Asian, I felt I had a bigger target on my back,” she said.

“My vote,” she added, “was purely a message to Democrats: Don’t take my vote for granted.”

Besides crime, Asian American voters expressed concern over a proposal by former Mayor Bill de Blasio to change the admissions process for the city’s specialized high schools.

Democratic leaders, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, have acknowledged their party’s failure to offer an effective message about public safety to counter Republicans’ tough-on-crime platform, which resonated not just with Asian Americans, but with a constellation of voters statewide.

In Flushing, Queens, home to one of New York City’s most vibrant Chinatowns, homespun leaflets posted on walls in English and Chinese encouraged passers-by to “Vote for Republicans” before the November election, blaming Democrats for illegal immigration and a rise in crime.

One flier portrayed Ms. Hochul as anti-police and sought to link her to the death of Christina Yuna Lee, who was fatally stabbed more than 40 times by a homeless man inside her apartment in Manhattan’s Chinatown last February.

Over Zoom, a group of 13 Chinese American friends, most of them retired union workers, met regularly to discuss the election before casting their ballots. A mix of Republicans, Democrats and political independents, they all voted for Mr. Zeldin.

Although Mr. Zeldin lost, his support among Asian American voters helped lift other Republican candidates to surprise victories in down-ballot legislative races.


Republicans performed well in parts of New York City with the largest Asian American populations, drawing voters who said they were concerned primarily with public safety, especially amid a spate of high-profile hate crimes targeting Asian Americans.


Interviews with Asian American voters revealed that their discontent with the Democratic Party was, in many cases, deep-rooted and based on frustrations built over years. Many of them described becoming disillusioned with a party that they said had overlooked their support and veered too far to the left. They listed Democratic priorities related to education, criminal justice and illegal immigration as favoring other minority groups over Asian Americans, and blamed Democratic policies for a rise in certain crimes and for supporting safe injection sites.

Voters traced their sense of betrayal in part to a divisive 2018 proposal by Mayor de Blasio, a Democrat, to alter the admissions process for the city’s elite high schools, several of which are dominated by Asian American students, to increase enrollment among Black and Hispanic students.

The plan would have effectively reduced the number of Asian American students offered spots at the elite schools, which made some Asian Americans feel that Democrats were targeting them.

Mayor Eric Adams, Mr. de Blasio’s successor, moved away from his predecessor’s plan to diversify the city’s top schools, but the effort galvanized Asian Americans politically, prompting parents to become more engaged and laying the groundwork for Republicans to make inroads among aggrieved voters. Indeed, one vocal political club that emerged from the education debate, the Asian Wave Alliance, actively campaigned for Mr. Zeldin.

“Why should I support Democrats who discriminate against me?” said Lailing Yu, 59, a mother from Hong Kong whose son graduated from a specialized high school in 2018. “We see Democrats are working for the interest of African Americans and Latino communities against Asian communities.”


Sam Ni, a father of two high school students, began shifting to the right after the debate over high school admissions. He described the city’s diversification effort as an attempt to “punish” Asian American students.

Mr. Ni said fears over subway crime had disrupted his daily life and further estranged him from the Democratic Party. {snip}


A week before the election, Asian American voters in New York City received mailings that appeared to be race-based. They accused the Biden administration and left-wing officials of embracing policies related to job qualifications and college admissions that “engaged in widespread racial discrimination against white and Asian Americans.”


Democratic officials said they believed that many Asian Americans that voted Republican tended to be East Asian, particularly Chinese voters who may be more culturally conservative. Republicans may have also found success among first-generation immigrants who may not be as attuned to the history of racial inequity that has led Democrats to enact policies that Republicans have targeted, such as reforms to New York’s bail laws.