Asian-Amer­i­can vot­ers turn­ing Democrats

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

At a shop­ping plaza in the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs, the flag of the longde­funct South Viet­nam flies be­side the Stars and Stripes. For­mer refugees who con­gre­gate there hold fast to their roots, but their po­lit­i­cal al­le­giances are chang­ing. Though they are re­garded as the most con­ser­va­tive of Asian-Amer­i­can vot­ers, the Viet­namese are in­creas­ingly shift­ing their sup­port to Democrats.

That re­flects a broader shift among Asian-Amer­i­cans from be­ing ma­jor­ity Repub­li­can sup­port­ers to over­whelm­ingly Demo­crat. Don­ald Trump’s po­lar­iz­ing rhetoric on is­sues like im­mi­gra­tion could ac­cel­er­ate the trend. That shift could have an ef­fect on the pres­i­den­tial race. Though Asian-Amer­i­cans rep­re­sent only about 4 per­cent of the elec­torate and tend to have low turnout, they are a po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant bloc in bat­tle­ground states like Ne­vada, Penn­syl­va­nia and Vir­ginia.

Asian-Amer­i­cans com­prise an ar­ray of eth­nic na­tion­al­i­ties: Chi­nese, In­di­ans, Filipinos, Kore­ans, Ja­panese and oth­ers. Most of the Viet­namese ar­rived af­ter the com­mu­nist takeover of their home­land in 1975 and have set­tled mainly in Cal­i­for­nia and Texas. But there’s a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber in Fair­fax County - a district in north­ern Vir­ginia where nearly one-fifth of the pop­u­la­tion is of Asian ori­gin. At the Eden Cen­ter, a plaza of Viet­namese shops and restau­rants, se­niors who once sup­ported the Repub­li­can Party for be­ing strong on na­tional se­cu­rity and fight­ing com­mu­nism are in­creas­ingly lean­ing Demo­crat - as their more pro­gres­sive chil­dren who were born in Amer­ica tend to do. For­mer teacher KimHa Ly, 67, re­counted that when she mi­grated to the US in the early 1990s, she voted Repub­li­can like her hus­band who had ar­rived as a refugee one decade ear­lier. But she changed to the Democrats be­cause she said that party was more in tune with the pri­or­i­ties of im­mi­grants. In this elec­tion, she is vol­un­teer­ing for a group called Viet­namese-Amer­i­can Women for Hil­lary.

“If we vote Demo­crat we can build a fairer and bet­ter coun­try,” she said. Her hus­band, Xuan Ly, 72, an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer who was in­terned in a camp af­ter the com­mu­nist takeover and later fled the coun­try by boat, is now Demo­crat too. As the cou­ple watched a non-par­ti­san voter reg­is­tra­tion event in the plaza’s park­ing lot, where ac­tivists were urg­ing fel­low Asian Amer­i­cans to be­come po­lit­i­cally en­gaged, Xuan spoke dis­mis­sively of Trump’s “bad be­hav­ior” and lack of govern­ment ex­pe­ri­ence. There’s still a di­ver­sity of po­lit­i­cal out- look among Asian-Amer­i­cans, with Viet­namese, Chi­nese and Filipinos, for ex­am­ple, viewed as more con­ser­va­tive than In­di­ans and Kore­ans.

But Karthick Ra­makr­ish­nan, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Asian Amer­i­can Sur­vey, said that Asian-Amer­i­cans, broadly speak­ing, back a lib­eral agenda sup­port­ing more so­cial spend­ing and uni­ver­sal health care. Taeku Lee, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and law at Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, said there has been a change over time from Viet­namese view­ing pol­i­tics through “a post-Cold war lens” where strength in for­eign pol­icy was es­pe­cially im­por­tant to fo­cus­ing more on do­mes­tic is­sues like ed­u­ca­tion and health care. That makes them more likely to vote Demo­cratic, even if they don’t have a strong al­le­giance to the party.

To­day, Asian-Amer­i­cans are of­ten per­ceived as high achievers, but lan­guage and cul­tural bar­ri­ers per­sist. In the 2012 elec­tion, turnout by Asian-Amer­i­can vot­ers was just 47 per­cent - 17 per­cent­age points less than the turnout among non-His­panic white vot­ers, ac­cord­ing to a Cen­sus Bureau sur­vey. Still, it is one of the fastest-grow­ing seg­ments of the elec­torate. Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign is run­ning multi-lin­gual phone banks and send­ing vol­un­teers from neigh­bor­ing states to help out in bat­tle­grounds like Ne­vada and Penn­syl­va­nia. The Clin­ton web­site car­ries cam­paign ma­te­rial in 11 Asian lan­guages: Cam­bo­dian, Chi­nese, Gu­jarati, Hindi, Korean, Ta­ga­log, Tamil, Tel­ugu, Thai, Urdu and Viet­namese.

The Repub­li­can party has also stepped up outreach to Asian-Amer­i­cans to re­verse a gen­er­a­tion of Demo­cratic gains. When Bill Clin­ton was elected pres­i­dent in 1992 he won just 31 per­cent of the Asian vote. When Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was re­elected in 2012, he won 73 per­cent. “I’m a big be­liever that the core be­liefs of a lot of Asian-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties are sim­i­lar to the Repub­li­can Party’s core prin­ci­pals,” said Ja­son Chung, who leads the Repub­li­can outreach ef­fort and cited as ev­i­dence an even split be­tween the par­ties for the Asian vote in 2014 con­gres­sional elec­tions.

Trump’s hard line on im­mi­gra­tion is likely to be a sig­nif­i­cant turn-off to that same con­stituency, as could al­le­ga­tions of in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct to­ward women. Staunch Repub­li­can voter Hong Nguyen, 66, a for­mer ser­vice mem­ber of the South Viet­nam air force, is un­de­terred. He’s back­ing Trump to be strong on de­fense, im­mi­gra­tion and the econ­omy. He said the grop­ing al­le­ga­tions against Trump won’t al­ter that. “It hap­pened a long time ago,” Nguyen said. “Why did these women wait 10, 15 years to talk?”— AP

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