Buddhist political leanings in the American Presidential Race 2016 (Continued)

Buddhist political leanings in the American Presidential Race 2016 (Continued) March 1, 2016

Yesterday we looked at a basic breakdown of the 350+ responses to a poll of Buddhists on the 2016 US Presidential Race. Today we’ll look at some of the breakdowns coming from deeper analysis. As mentioned, due to a change in platforms, I could only export and analyse data from the final 269 submissions made on the Google Form. Those make up the basis for the analysis below.

The first of these is race/ethnicity, based on self-identification.

Is race a significant factor for Buddhists in the upcoming election? For an excellent background on the topic, we can turn to a short article by Jeff Wilson from 2008. There he notes that the major Buddhist magazines overwhelmingly lean left, noting their largely white convert editorial staff and authorship. Meanwhile:

Here in North America, there are large numbers of registered Republican Buddhists. Many of them are Asian-Americans, immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who fled left-wing violence in their native countries. One can only believe that Buddhists are naturally aligned with liberalism if no time has been spent among Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Chinese, or other Asian-Americans. Anti-Communism drives many such Buddhists into the Republican Party, as does similar views on traditional values, economic policy, patriotism, and other issues.

One of the greatest disconnects with the Democrats is over abortion, which the Democratic Party supports and the Republican Party opposes. The belief that life begins at conception is nearly universal across Buddhist Asia, and the overwhelming majority of Buddhist monks, nuns, and priests believe abortion to be a violation of the first precept. This has led many Buddhist leaders in Asian-American communities to endorse Republican candidates. At the same time, we have to be careful about stereotyping Asian-American Buddhism, a diverse phenomenon that also includes many Democrats and other liberals.

Wilson cites a then-recent Pew Forum survey on the U.S. Religious Landscape which showed that 18% of Buddhists were Republican and 44% considered themselves to be moderates or conservatives. While that poll, like the one conducted here, over-represented white Buddhists, it did show that many political voices on the right exist in Buddhism even if major media outlets and popular blogs representing them cannot be found.


In designing the survey, no accepted set of race/ethnicity options existed in the SurveyMonkey database. The only question they had “certified” was one that left the question open to the user to fill in.

This allowed for obvious inclusivity, but posed the new challenge of grouping similar responses. For instance it makes little sense to see who “Caucasians” support vs people who described their race/ethnicity as “White” or “European.” In a small survey such as this, it also made little sense to contrast those with the one or two people who gave country-specific answers such as “Irish/German” or “Dutch”. So for reporting purposes, all of these have been put under the category of “White.”

Similarly, we reduced, as well as we could, various Asian individuals into that single category (while recognizing Wilson’s caution above). There were also two Black respondents, five Latino, seven Mixed, and two Native American, along with dozens who left the question blank or entered “human”. As we will see, the poll’s respondents are overwhelmingly white, which does not represent the American Buddhist population as a whole, which is by most estimates between 75 and 80 percent Asian American (see Prebish, Looking West: A Primer for American Buddhism, 2011).

presidential poll 2016 february- RACE - Ethnicity

So the results might be more accurately reported as (Mostly White) Buddhist political leanings in the American Presidential Race 2016. I plan to run near-identical polls each month with the hope that friends/readers can assist in reaching out to non-white Buddhists for a fuller and more accurate report.

But now, for the numbers.

Of the Asian group (14 total),

  • 4 selected Hillary Clinton, (28.6%)
  • 9 chose Bernie Sanders, (64.3%)
  • and one chose none.

presidential poll 2016 february- asian respondents

From our two Black respondents: both selected Bernie Sanders.

From the five Latino respondents: 4 selected Bernie Sanders; one wrote in Jill Stein.

From the seven Mixed race/ethnicity respondents: 5 selected Hillary Clinton, 2 selected Bernie Sanders.

From the Native American respondents: one chose Donald Trump, the other selected Bernie Sanders.

And lastly, from the White respondents: 

  • 2 wrote in Anarchist/Radical
  • 2 chose Ben Carson
  • 127 selected Bernie Sanders (63.8%)
  • 4 selected Donald Trump
  • 48 selected Hillary Clinton (24%)
  • 3 selected Jill Stein
  • 1 selected John Kasich
  • 6 chose Marco Rubio
  • 2 were for Ted Cruz

presidential poll 2016 february- white respondents

While the sample of Asian respondents is obviously too small (I can’t fathom what the margin of error would be – statisticians?), for now it seems that race plays little roll in the general strong support of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton over other candidates. Likewise, Sanders is the strong favorite for both Asian (64% to Clinton’s 28%) and White (64% to Clinton’s 24%) respondents.

As always, comments/feedback are welcome. Also see further breakdowns in the polling data by age & gender here.

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