The Puzzle of Young Asian Political Participation - A Comparative Discussion of Young Asian Political Participation in New Zealand and the United States

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Prominent theories in political participation literature predict that those with higher levels of income and education are more like to engage in politics. Given the perception of Asian New Zealanders as wealthy and well educated it is puzzling not only to find that this community has low levels of political participation, but that a similar pattern emerges in the United States. It is to this background that this thesis aims to shed light on the political attitudes and participation of young Asian New Zealanders, and reports on results from depth interviews held in Christchurch between December 2007 and early 2008. A small pilot study of six Asian New Zealanders aged between 18-24 years and five of their parents were interviewed regarding their voting habits, their participation in other political activities, and their interest in politics. This thesis identifies six prominent theories of political participation and assesses their ability to explain the political participation of this small sample of young Asian New Zealanders. The results of this study are also compared with research conducted on Asian participation in the United States so as to gain a more in depth perspective of Asian immigrant political participation. This thesis finds that while the participants in this study relate closely to their ethnic and cultural backgrounds, they often identify New Zealand as ‘home’ and see their future in New Zealand. The participants also discussed politics and participation in terms commonly associated with a typical youth cohort, rather than what might be expected of a minority youth cohort. While the six youth participants in this study did not participate extensively in political activities, the interviewees indicated they are interested in politics and feel that they can influence politics in New Zealand, should they choose to do so. Furthermore, this research highlights how theories which have been found to be influential in predicting the political engagement of majority groups may not adequately explain the engagement of immigrant communities. While most theories of participation have had their widest application in relation to majority communities, minority groups are faced with a unique set of informational, legal and linguistic barriers. Thus, traditional assumptions about what serves to influence political engagement may not fully explain immigrant political participation.


Jessica Buck

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