Who Voted for John Liu?

There has been a great deal of analysis of the mayoral primary election in regard to demographic crossover.  Blacks went for de Blasio, women went for de Blasio, gays and lesbians appear to have gone for de Blasio.  Yet Thompson did well among Latinos, and he did especially well in certain areas of the city that are overwhelmingly white: Yorkville, Manhattan Beach and Breezy Point all went heavily for the conservative, business-friendly Thompson, the only Democratic candidate who stood up for stop-and-frisk.

In post-racial New York, it seems, there is only one group who didn't get the memo about crossing over politically, and who voted almost strictly along narrow ethnic lines.  John Liu, winning about 7% of the total vote, did remarkably, even astoundingly well in primarily Asian districts, and rather less well everywhere else.  In fact, and this is a generalization with plenty of counter-examples to be sure, Liu, on a precinct-by-precinct level, either won the district overwhelmingly, or came in 4th or 5th. 

We can look at this data in a couple of ways.  We could say that there is a lot of anti-Asian racism and a reluctance to elect a Chinese mayor.  This could be the case, though Liu won the comptrollership 4 years ago, and did well across the city in the primary election, winning the Bronx, for instance, with about 40% of the vote.  Liu was denied public matching funds this year, and one could argue that this disadvantage made it impossible for him to get his message across.  However, as Comptroller, Liu was notoriously available at the opening of every pizza box and envelope, and certainly made the most of his city-paid driver and security detail to hit as many public functions as possible.  Certainly he cut a higher profile over the last four years than Bill Thompson.

And of course, John Liu certainly gave people plenty of reasons not to vote for him, the indictments of his top aides being one and two.

The real question isn't about John Liu.  It is about the parts of the city that voted for him overwhelmingly: Chinatown, Flushing, and Sunset Park, the three areas of the city with the densest concentration of Chinese voters.  There has been a lot written in recent years about how the Chinese-American community is finally coming into its own politically. In 2002 John Liu became the first Chinese-American elected to the Council, and in 2004 Jimmy Meng was the first elected to the Assembly. In 2009 Margaret Chin became the first Chinese-American representative from Chinatown on the City Council, and Liu was elected to citywide office.  

One could look at the growing Chinese-American electorate and say that they are still at a stage of political immaturity regarding ethnic voting patterns.  It certainly appears that the Chinese vote in this election cut sharply along those lines.  One might encourage the community to look beyond the race or ethnicity of the candidate to embrace, as we ideally do, the notion of finding common ground across such provincial boundaries.  Surely it is just an adolescent phase that all new immigrant communities go through, rooting for "their" guy, looking for another "first."  Certainly the Quinn campaign tried to do that with women and gays, though they failed, perhaps because women and gays are sophisticated enough voters to know that just because Quinn is one of them, that doesn't mean she is necessarily the best candidate for them.

So it is an interesting phenomenon.  John Liu was a credible candidate to be the first Asian-American mayor.  He ran a broad campaign and tried to appeal to a lot of different voters, coming out strong against stop-and-frisk early on, even trying to get the pro-marihuana legalization vote towards the end (slightly desperate, that.)  In the end though, he basically won the Asian vote, and wound up the classic "ethnic" candidate, supported by his base, and largely ignored by everyone else.