GOP Losing Vietnamese American Voters

August 24th, 2010 at 11:34 am | 16 Comments |

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Vietnamese Americans have as a group historically voted in favor of Republican candidates and have self-identified as Republicans at a greater rate than other Asian American communities.  This is for a number of reasons, including because Vietnamese Americans perceived the GOP as being the more aggressively anti-communist of the two major American political parties, particularly during the Reagan era.  Given the historical circumstances which led to emigration by Vietnamese people to the United States, in many ways one can consider the Vietnamese American experience to be similar to that of another post-World War II immigrant population – the Cuban American community, and the voting tendencies between both groups are quite similar.

This voting tendency has not disappeared.  According to the National Asian American Survey (NAAS) entitled “Asian Americans and the 2008 Election” (which was conducted prior to the 2008 Presidential election), Vietnamese Americans were the only Asian American group that leaned more Republican than Democrat, and the polling in that survey showed strong support for John McCain over Barack Obama at a ratio of two to one.  The exit polling conducted during that election seems to support the pre-election polling cited above.  According to a report from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) entitled “The Asian American Vote in the 2008 Presidential Election“, Vietnamese Americans had the highest percentage of identification with the Republican Party among Asian American groups at 44%, with that number going over 50% in the states of Texas, Louisiana and Maryland.  This exit poll report also stated that Vietnamese Americans voted in favor of John McCain over Barack Obama at a rate of 67% to 30%, a ratio which tracked the polling among decided voters in the pre-election report from the NAAS.  Vietnamese Americans were the only Asian American group to vote in favor of John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008.

It is therefore not surprising that the first Vietnamese American U.S. Congressman would be a Republican, Joseph Cao (R-Louisiana), or that other prominent Vietnamese American political and public policy figures, such as former Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh or California State Assemblyman Van Tran would come primarily from the GOP.  All this having been said, it would be a mistake for Republicans to assume that Vietnamese Americans will remain overwhelmingly supportive of the GOP in the future.  This is because younger Vietnamese American voters and native-born Vietnamese American voters are trending towards the Democratic Party.

The AALDEF report mentioned above found that among Vietnamese Americans born in the United States, Barack Obama won 69% of the vote and Barack Obama won 60% of the vote of Vietnamese Americans between the ages of 18 and 29.  While these two cohorts are minorities within the broader Vietnamese American community (15% and 25%, respectively), obviously these groups are the demographic future of the Vietnamese American community, unless there is another wave of large-scale immigration from Vietnam.  This trend has been noted in Vietnamese American strongholds like Orange County, California and Houston, Texas.  In the latter case, a Vietnamese American Democratic businessman named Hubert Vo defeated a longtime incumbent Republican state representative in 2004 to become the first Vietnamese American in the Texas State Legislature.

There are many reasons for this shift away from the Republican Party among Vietnamese Americans.  In some ways, one can argue that this is a simple example of assimilation among younger Vietnamese Americans, in that their voting patterns are coming more into line with their same-age counterparts in other ethnic groups and with other Asian Americans.  Also, this may just be a classic example of native-born voters drifting away from the home-country orientation of their immigrant parents, particularly given that it has now been 35 years since the end of the Vietnam War and the possibility that the communist government in Vietnam will be overthrown has largely faded, thus diminishing the salience of that issue as a voting issue.  However, there is evidence (as discussed in the articles cited herein) that this shift is also because of perceptions among Vietnamese Americans that the Republican Party is becoming less welcoming of immigrant populations, and Vietnamese Americans have shown some support for liberal domestic policy initiatives, such as healthcare reform.

One shouldn’t overstate the case.  Republicans can still look to the Vietnamese American community as being a uniquely pro-GOP group among Asian Americans.  This isn’t something that Republicans can assume will be the case for the future, however.  Indeed, one may argue that the most prominent Vietnamese American national politician, Representative Joseph Cao, may himself be positioning himself in a politically centrist manner that acknowledges both the generally Democratic nature of his district and changes in the Vietnamese American electorate.  The Vietnamese American vote, while not a gigantic one in the United States, is congregated in key urban centers in which they can act as an important swing vote.  A Houston Press article published in 2004 discusses the Hubert Vo campaign described above as an example of the political implications of such demographic transformation in Houston.  Therefore, a move towards the Democratic Party by Vietnamese Americans is not a trivial issue, and current trends may bring more joy to Democrats than to Republicans in coming years.

Recent Posts by Mark R. Yzaguirre



16 Comments so far ↓

  • Carney

    A similar phenomenon exists with Cuban-Americans.

  • mpolito

    We need to appreciate that “children” -and I should say that I am one of them- may be “the future” but that does not mean they are not ignorant. Younger Vietnamese folks, as with younger Cubans, never had to live under a brutal communist regime, and so they don’t really understand how bad it actually is. Given that, it is probably better to appeal to them in general, rather than try some sort of racial pandering, because they do not have the same background as their parents.

  • balconesfault

    A similar phenomenon exists with Cuban-Americans.

    And the turnover for the Vietnamese GOP support might be much quicker than for the Cuban-Americans … while the Cuban-Americans have been successful in blocking any kind of normalization with Cuba for 5 decades now, American businesses have been building factories and resorts in Vietnam for a decade now, and the US is even doing joint naval exercises with Vietnam.

    In other words, the older generation will hold resentments against the Vietnamese government that the younger generation will view as pointless. When the GOP Candidate for Senate in California used to run a corporation which does plenty of business in Vietnam, viewing the GOP as the “good guys” in opposing the communist government begins to seem deluded.

  • Rob_654

    The GOP is starting to turn off another ethnic group – amazing – I am truly stunned.

  • DFL

    With the parade of groups that the GOP is turning off, at least according to this site, it will be a wonder if the Republicans win 30 % of the vote in November and retain 100 House seats.

  • easton

    The Republicans under Reagan and both Bush’s were not xenophobic in their policies, though their rhetoric sometimes got nasty you could paint that off as simply bones thrown to the south.
    As to the modern party leadership, I am convinced that Jindal, Huckabee, and Romney would do what is right, and Palin and Gingrich whatever they thought could generate the worst elements of the base.

  • CO Independent

    According to FrumForum the GOP is rapidly losing voters across the board, yet every poll I see shows the GOP winning a major landslide in 2010. Go figure?

  • DFL

    CO Independent, it is surely a illusion. The Democrats will sweep.

  • dugfromthearth

    “According to FrumForum the GOP is rapidly losing voters across the board, yet every poll I see shows the GOP winning a major landslide in 2010. Go figure?”

    I think the problem is reading comprehension. When you interpret “While these two cohorts are minorities within the broader Vietnamese American community (15% and 25%, respectively),” as being “across the board” you are clearing not understanding what was written.

    And when you interpret “One shouldn’t overstate the case. Republicans can still look to the Vietnamese American community as being a uniquely pro-GOP group among Asian Americans. This isn’t something that Republicans can assume will be the case for the future, however.” as being “rapidly losing voters” it is clear that you either fail to comprehend basic English, or you are simply choosing to ignore reality and create a strawman to attack for your own purposes. Go figure.

  • easton

    According to FrumForum the GOP is rapidly losing voters across the board, yet every poll I see shows the GOP winning a major landslide in 2010. Go figure?

    Easy enough, the minorities and the young are simply going to stay home come November. If they did turn out in as large a number as whites, Republicans would themselves get swamped, as is what happened in 2006 and 2008. And as to major landslide, please wait if and until it happens before you crow. Republicans themselves kept predicting right up until election day the McCain would win.

  • CO Independent

    >> I think the problem is reading comprehension. When you interpret “While these two cohorts are minorities within the broader Vietnamese American community (15% and 25%, respectively),” as being “across the board” you are clearing not understanding what was written.

    I think the reading comprehension problem is yours, not mine. My comment refers to FrumForum in general, not this particular post. This post is one in a seemingly never-ending sequence of hand-wringing posts bemoaning how blacks, hispanics, jews, women, gays, Vietnamese, Latvians, etc. are leaving the party. Yet at the same time all the polls show Republicans gaining lots of seats in 2010, and many show Republicans taking back one or both houses of Congress.

  • Rabiner

    CO Independent:

    There is a disconnect between the groups you mention and the demographics of voters that will vote this November. Non-presidential elections tend to be whiter and older in the type of voter who participates. Older whiter voters tend to be more religious and Christian. This demographic represents the Republican party far more than the Democratic party.

  • sinz54

    mpolito:

    The Cold War has been over for 20 years, and America brought its troops home from Vietnam 37 years ago.

    For us of the older generation, those wars were OUR wars. They’re not the wars of anyone born in the last 20 years.

    When young people today look at China, they don’t see Mao’s Cultural Revolution. They see a vibrant economic power with a more rapid growth rate than America’s.

    Appeals to young voters that are philosophically based in opposition to the horrors of Communism are going to fall flat.

  • Posting From Fake America

    CO Independent:

    Republicans have about 1-2 more election cycles where they can win or remain competitive by turning out their base of old, white, christian voters. Demographic shifts will soon make this a losing strategy. This is why even many veteran conservatives are cautioning Republicans against using anti-Muslim/immigration/gay rhetoric.

  • Donna

    With comments from the left like Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez, I don’t think this article posted here has any muster.

    http://nicedoggie.net/index.php/archives/2210

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