More than half of Asian Americans say they plan to vote for Joe Biden in the election, according to the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey. It also shows that Trump is losing support from Chinese-Americans specifically. He’s engaged in a trade war with China. He’s trying to ban popular Chinese apps such as WeChat and TikTok. And he calls the coronavirus “the Chinese virus.”
But there is a small group of right-leaning Chinese Americans who are increasingly vocal about their support for Trump.
KCRW talks with Marrian Zhou, reporter for Nikkei Asia based in New York, and Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor of political science at UC Riverside.
KCRW: Marrian, you spoke to some Trump-supporting Chinese American voters. Are they recent immigrants or from earlier generations? Why do they support Trump?
Marrian Zhou: “Yeah, they are first generation immigrants back from the 80s and the 90s. … They believe that Trump is standing up for them. … Immigration and education are two very big issues for them. For someone who came from China, back in the days where they had really nothing, they believe that they made themselves into middle class, basically the pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps kind of mentality. So they really think that other people should do the same, which we know people have different circumstances and that's not the case.
So they believe in Trump because … Republicans also believe in going against affirmative action and ‘we don't want to let illegal immigrants in’ that kind of thing.”
So all of Trump’s immigration talk really appeals to them?
Marrian Zhou: “Yes. And that is a very small part of the Chinese American community. They're very conservative. They were students, and they had nothing, and they think that they worked hard enough to get it, and other people should do the same.”
They’re not bothered by Trump constantly saying negative things about China, racist things about coronavirus and calling it “the China virus?”
Marrian Zhou: “That is the very interesting point for them, because for most Chinese Americans, they have really turned away from Trump's name calling and the anti-China rhetoric before this very particular group of Chinese immigrants. I think a lot of them are still very much in denial that there is discrimination against Asian Americans. … So when Trump said, ‘Oh, you know, Chinese virus is based on the location, not Chinese people,’ they immediately just buy into that.”
Karthick, you recently looked at data among Asian Americans as a whole. You found that some groups have moved toward the right. What Marrian is saying, is that ringing true with other Asian Americans?
Karthick Ramakrishnan: “What we find is that Trump has actually lost ground among Chinese American voters from 2016 to 2020. So there may be a hardcore group that is sticking with Trump.
But in 2016, we had a post-election survey that showed 35% support for President Trump. Among those who voted, we're only seeing 20% with 23% undecided. So that is a big shift.
For other groups, he's gained a lot among Vietnamese American voters. So even though Vietnamese Americans voted 61 to 34 for Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016, President Trump has close to a majority of Vietnamese American support now.
And among Indian Americans, he has increased his share. In 2016, he was at 16%. And now he's at 28%. So you are seeing some movement.
But for all Asian American groups, with the exception of Vietnamese Americans, you have many more who are supporting Biden than Trump.”
Why do Vietnamese Americans and Indian Americans support Trump more now than in 2016?
Karthick Ramakrishnan: “For Indian Americans, where we're seeing the movement happening is actually among Indian American men. Among Indian American women, there has been some movement but not much. And it looks like it's mostly occurring among middle-aged Indian American men who are foreign-born. So this is where all of this friendship and rhetoric in terms of being a champion of Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi and of India might be making a difference. But we're not seeing much of a movement among Indian American women. And I think that's important to note.
Among Vietnamese Americans, there are several potential factors at play. … The anti-China rhetoric, as well as some of the rhetoric on coronavirus that might have turned off Chinese American voters, well, certainly among those who might prefer someone who's standing up to China, that might actually help them among older Vietnamese American voters.
And we're actually seeing a big generational divide in the Vietnamese American community. A big difference between older voters that are strongly pro-Trump and younger voters that are favoring Biden.”
Marrian, the group of Chinese American voters you spoke with say affirmative action is a reason why they support President Trump. Why are they concerned about this issue?
Marrian Zhou: “I think for a lot of Chinese immigrant parents, education is the top thing for them. … They want their kids to go to good schools and then get a good job. And for them, affirmative action, the conservative ones believe it is blocking Asian kids from getting into good schools. They think other people are taking their spots.
I've talked to professors about this. … It seems like they don't perfectly understand that the campaign going against affirmative action is actually funded by a lot of far right groups. So they really buy into that kind of mentality that ‘oh, this is bad for Asian kids,’ which we know it's not true.
Even some of them say that there are left leaning Chinese Americans in their friends’ groups that might, based on the education issue, pulling more towards Trump.”
Karthick, there’s a proposition on the ballot that would remove the ban on affirmative action in college admissions in California. Are Asian Americans concerned about this in general?
Karthick Ramakrishnan: “This is really fascinating because we've been polling opinion on affirmative action for several years now. And what we saw generally was support among Asian Americans, and that was steady over time. Even though among Chinese Americans, because a lot of the conservative mobilization, you saw a decline in support from 2014 through 2018.
What you're actually seeing is, even though most Asian Americans support affirmative action, you have a very large percent that say don't know. And what that suggests is that you have a very large pool of persuadable voters who don't know enough about Proposition 16, what it means. And this is where you're going to see a lot of activity … for those who are either for Prop 16 or against Prop 16 in the Asian American community, reaching out and trying to educate voters and trying to persuade them to vote one way or the other.
… The Public Policy Institute of California did a poll that included white and Latino voters, they had breakouts for those groups, and you didn't see a majority support or a greater support and opposition among either of those groups. Among Asian Americans, among those who have decided, you actually do see support for Prop 16. But again, you have close to half of Asian American registered voters who have not made up their minds. So there's a lot of room for persuasion left to go.”
— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Nihar Patel