An Outlier of Asian Americans in the Election: Conservative Vietnamese Voters

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 10/23/2020 1:22:19 PM
Modified: 10/23/2020 1:22:09 PM

Democrats can usually count on minority groups to vote for them, including Asian Americans, the fastest growing racial group or ethnic group in the electorate. But the Asian American population is not a monolith, and the Republican party can usually rely on loyalty from Vietnamese-Americans.

A survey conducted by the Asian and Pacfic Islander American Vote (APIA), AAPI Data, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, revealed that Vietnamese-Americans are the only Asian American group to have a majority favorable view of Donald Trump, at 53%. Vietnamese-Americans are also more likely to vote for the Republican candidate in their Senate and House races than any other Asian American group.

Vietnamese-Americans are not considered a key voting bloc in the election. The 2010 census only counted 2472 Vietnamese people in New Hampshire.

Trump’s anti-communist and anti-China rhetoric is particulary attractive to Vietnamese-American voters, who are averse to anything that could bring the country a step closer to what they perceive as communism.

This outlier of support for the GOP can be traced to the Vietnam War. The Vietnam war caused an influx of South Vietnamese refugees to the United States, escaping a communist North Vietnam. New Hampshire was one of the states that received a new — sizable and still growing — Vietnamese population. From 2000 to 2010, New Hampshire’s Vietnamese population increased by 46%.

One of these South Vietnamese refugees is New Hampshire resident Bao Chau Kelley, an outspoken Vietnamese Trump supporter with over 5,000 followers on Facebook.

“The first day I was in this country . . . I breathed freedom for the first time in my life,” Kelley said during a speech at an anti-lockdown protest in Massachusetts on May 16th, “Let me tell you, because you were born here, you don’t know what you have until you actually lost it.”

Kelley was reached for further comment on the topic but declined.

Kelley echoes the sentiments of several Vietnamese-Americans in the country and New Hampshire. After being forced to leave their homeland and immigrate to a completely new country, Vietnamese refugees have an appreciation for their new life in the United States.

Grateful for Republicans

The Vietnamese-American refugees that are here today in New Hampshire and the United States have since been loyal to the GOP for letting them into the United States.

In 1975, former President Gerald Ford pushed for the country to open its borders to the Vietnamese people that lost their home to the communist North Vietnamese. But the most popular and most commonly known Republican among Vietnamese-Americans is the late Senator John McCain, who spearheaded efforts to let Vietnamese refugees in long after the war.

Unmarried adult children of Vietnamese prisoners of war were granted refugee status to enter the United States. This was done through the Orderly Departure Program, a program that was designed to help Vietnamese people immigrate to other countries and leave the now-communist Vietnam.

In 1995, the State Department changed its policy, barring unmarried children of Vietnamese POW’s refugee status. Senator McCain pushed an amendment — now called the McCain Amendment — to restore that policy, eventually succeeding in 1997.

Because of Republican efforts to let Vietnamese refugees in the United States, the GOP found a new consistent voting bloc in Vietnamese-Americans. In 2008, when McCain ran on the Republican ticket, an overwhelming 67% of Vietnamese Americans voted for McCain.

A Generational Divide

But the Vietnamese-Americans to possess this sort of thinking are refugees, those who escaped the Vietnam War and lost their freedom to what they perceive was communism. The children they had in the United States think differently. Like many younger voters, they lean Democratic.

One notable factor behind why older Vietnamese-Americans are so conservative is a lack of formal education. Across all groups, education has proven to be a great factor into how somebody votes.

Christine Le, 19, a Manchester resident and student at Boston University, saw this in her family.

“I know that my parents, and a lot of my friends and their parents, didn’t even finish high school,” she said. “Whereas, we as second-gen [Americans], we’re all really encouraged to do well in school and go on to college. Just the fact that we have more education is probably a contributor to [how we vote].”

Politics are rarely brought up at the dinner table of Vietnamese households, due to Vietnamese conservatism being so deeply rooted in the Vietnam war.

“My parents like to keep the details to themselves, they don’t like to talk about what happened during the war, mainly, I think, is because of how traumatic it was to them,” said Sophia Hoang, 20, a Manchester resident and student at Boston College. “I don’t want to press them further, because I don’t want to spark an argument out of the blue.”

Vietnamese-Americans born in the United States like Le and Hoang have no war to look back on. They were born and raised in America and have no past to fear communism. Like other young voters raised in America, they lean left politically. They have no plans to vote for Trump on election day.

But an energized, conservative Vietnamese-American community will. On Nov 3rd, a Vietnamese-American community of refugees will turn out at the polling place for Trump. Vietnamese-American refugees know what it is like to have freedom — and to have it taken away — and believe that by voting Republican they can preserve that freedom.

 

Kenneth Tran is an Election SOS fellow. These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.


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