New Pew Research Center Poll shows diverging opinions for Asian Americans on their origin countries, revealing stark differences rooted in history and furthered by geopolitical tensions.
Asian immigration to the United States has traditionally been separated into two different waves. The first wave began during the mid-1800s when Chinese nationals began immigrating to the American West Coast, working as miners and railroad builders. Many of these immigrants came alone, leaving their families behind in search of higher wages to send home and hoping to one day return to their homeland with riches in tow. While in the United States, many of these laborer immigrants faced significant persecution, and a series of anti-Asian policies starting with the Page Act of 1875, followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which solidified their status as undesirable aliens.
The second wave began after the passing of the 1965 Immigration Act, abolishing race-based quotas in favor of one national quota. With more favorable laws in place, this new wave of Asian immigration had significant demographic differences. Many immigrants who came from East Asia and India were well educated and in search of better opportunities, and therefore able to bring their families over. Post-1965 immigration laws also gave priority to reuniting refugee families, including many from Southeast Asia. The United States became a beacon of hope for those running away from violence. As a result, this second wave of immigration was populated by immigrants inspired by the American Dream.
These historical factors support Pew Research Center’s latest findings on Asian American opinion towards both the United States and their origin countries. The report is based on a nationally representative survey of 7,006 Asian American adults collected during the first half of 2023. One of its most notable findings is that the country with the highest percentage of somewhat or very favorable opinions was the United States at 78 percent.
Furthermore, foreign-born Asian adults who chose to immigrate to America had much more favorable views (84%) than those who were native-born (64%). The next top countries in order were Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, all with majority favorable opinions, while China rounded out the bottom with the only majority of unfavorable opinions at 52 percent while only 20 percent had favorable opinions. Similarly, only around a third of Asian Americans had favorable opinions on the Philippines, Vietnam, and India, with the majority having neither favorable nor unfavorable opinions on these countries.
Similar findings arose when breaking things down by Asian American ethnicities, with Chinese Americans being the only ethnicity where fewer than half of all respondents held a favorable opinion. Nevertheless, a larger share of Chinese Americans (41%) held a favorable view compared to other Asian adults (14%). Another significant finding was that Indian Americans had the most drastic difference in somewhat or very favorable opinions compared to the rest of Asian Americans on India, with Indian Americans at 76 percent compared to Asian Americans at 23 percent. On a broader level, 53 percent of Asian Americans also believed that the United States will be the leading economic power over the next decade, while 36 percent chose China, consistent with the American public.
These findings not only reflect the impact on public opinion caused by a rise in geopolitical tensions between the United States and China but also the enduring success of the ethos of the second wave of Asian immigration. Given the stark political differences and highly contentious relationship between the two major powers, it comes as no surprise that those who choose to live in America share an allegiance. Nonetheless, the results of this poll reinforce the enduring power of the American Dream in inspiring immigrants to believe in the idea of a place where the opportunity for a better life is available to all.
Cecilia Winchell is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a recent graduate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a major in Philosophy and a minor in Public Policy.