John Cho '22 Wins the Rintels Prize

Please join us in congratulatingJohn Cho '22 who won the Jonathan B. Rintels 1927 Prize for the best honors thesis in the Arts and Humanities & Social Sciences.

The Department of Government is thrilled to announce that John Cho's '22 honors thesis Trade-offs in Asian American Political Representation has won the Jonathan B. Rintels 1927 Prize. The Rintels Prize recognizes an outstanding thesis in the Arts and Humanities & Social Sciences.

About John's thesis, one of his advisors, Prof. Horiuchi, writes: 

John's thesis is likely to be a path-breaking study in the field of politics of race and ethnicity, often called "REP" – a new and rapidly growing subfield within political science. The presence of Asian Americans in American politics is growing for two reasons: the growth in Asian American population and the growth in Asian American political candidates in federal and state elections. Nevertheless, empirical studies about Asian American voters' attitudes toward Asian American candidates are surprisingly limited. John's thesis addresses this issue.

The findings are very insightful. When people answer questions about the importance of "partisan representation" (representation of voters' preferred party in Congress) and 2 "descriptive presentation" (representation of politicians with the same demographic attributes, such as race/ethnicity, as those of voters), Asian Americans report that descriptive representation is more important than partisan representation. Namely, they would prefer to have more Asian Americans in Congress. We think this finding may be partly due to people's reluctance to express their honest party preferences, given the prevailing negative images of partisan polarization and conflicts, and their desire to affiliate with their social and cultural ingroup. However, in conjoint analysis, known to mitigate a so-called social desirability bias, people choose candidates based on their party affiliation. John finds a robust and concerning result, suggesting the weaker relevance of Asian American identity for Asian Americans regarding their preferences in politics. Since Asian Americans are highly heterogeneous regarding social networks, languages, and socio-economic backgrounds, his research may suggest a continued challenge for Asian Americans to organize their interests, increase their presence in politics, and influence policy processes.

A related contribution of John's thesis is that it provides important revelations about panethnic groups in the study of identity and intersectionality. Like Latino and Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans are often grouped together as a monolith even though they differ in ethnic, cultural, religious, and phenotypical background. In his thesis, John finds that Asian American candidates who are explicitly not of the same origin as the survey respondents are penalized compared to Asian American candidates who are described in pan-ethnic terms. For example, a Chinese American is more likely to vote for a candidate who is described as an "Asian American" than they are for a candidate who is described as a "Korean American," even controlling for other characteristics of the candidate. This finding offers a more nuanced and rich understanding of Asian American political attitudes and should influence future scholars to carefully consider heterogeneity when studying racial and ethnic minorities.

John's study is novel for several reasons. First, John targeted Asian American voters only and systematically collected a national sample for his large-scale survey experiment. Administering such a survey to understand the politics of Asian Americans has been rare. Understanding how this growing and often marginalized segment of the population votes for co- or pan-ethnic candidates has important implications for increasing their presence in the office and potentially reducing political and racial inequalities. Second, his thesis is the first to apply conjoint analysis to understand Asian Americans' electoral choices. Third, and most importantly, to the best of our knowledge, his thesis is the first to examine voters' choices when they face trade-offs in the above-noted different types of political representation. Therefore, his thesis should make broader contributions to the literature beyond the specific literature on Asian Americans.