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An important question in the study of minority political behavior is how immigrant groups, like Asian Americans, develop political attitudes and make decisions to participate in politics. Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the United States, making their political behavior increasingly important to understand (Pew Asian American Report 2013). Also, many are first- or second-generation immigrants, which makes this pan-ethnic group an interesting testbed for theories about immigrant political socialization. The canonical literature suggests that parental political attitudes and early political exposure are major sources of Americans’ political orientations (for example, see Campbell et al 1960; Jennings and Niemi 1981; Jennings et al. 2009). However, given that Asian Americans are an immigrant constituency, many lack such experiences of political socialization during childhood. This suggests that they may develop political orientations later on in life, through experiences within social settings outside of the family. In this paper, I test a social theory of immigrant political socialization, predicting that Asian Americans develop political orientations as young adults, in the social settings and institutions that they are involved in, such as American universities. Given that 53% of Asian Americans have at least a bachelor’s degree, college may be an important source of their political socialization. (Ryan and Bauman 2015). In previous work, I also find qualitative evidence suggesting that Asian Americans who grow up in the United States rarely discuss politics at home, making them particularly susceptible to learning about politics through their interactions with peers in school and college (Raychaudhuri 2017, working paper).
In this study, I analyze the effects of the college experience on (1) political ideology and (2) inclinations to participate in politics amongst Asian Americans. To understand how college influences these political outcomes, I use a unique longitudinal dataset, containing seven cohorts (graduation years: 2007-2014) of Asian American college students (N = 6,044) from CIRP’s “The Freshman Survey” and “College Senior Survey”. CIRP surveys college students at the beginning of their freshman year and the end of their senior year, allowing for a test of the causes of individual-level changes in political attitudes over the course of college (Mendelberg et al. 2017). In addition to this methodological benefit, this data is useful for investigating the development of political attitudes as they emerge during young adulthood and for the study of the effects of particular social experiences present during college. College is an ideal social environment for testing theories about political socialization that are grounded in social experience, because it is a setting in which students live, work, and socialize. In this paper, I test for the effects of various social experiences, such as friendships with members of the same or different racial groups, membership in Asian American ethnic organizations, participation in campus clubs and organizations, and the campus ideological tilt on political outcomes. I expect that social experiences during college have strong effects on political socialization for Asian Americans who attend college in the United States. In particular, I predict that Asian American college students will develop the ideological leanings of their campus community. Also, Asian American students who are active participants in campus life and have diverse friend groups will become more active political participants than they were when they began college.