US Elections 2016

Trump seen as pushing Asian Americans into Democratic arms

A member of the Asian Pacific American Labour Alliance registering voters in Las Vegas last Friday. The city is home to one of the country's largest Asian populations.
A member of the Asian Pacific American Labour Alliance registering voters in Las Vegas last Friday. The city is home to one of the country's largest Asian populations.PHOTO: NYTIMES

LAS VEGAS • On paper at least, Asian Americans seem like perfect Republicans. Many are small-business owners. Their communities tend to be more culturally conservative. And a lot of them, having fled oppressive communist governments, found comfort in the Republican Party's aggressive anti-communist policies.

But in what could be a significant realignment of political allegiance, Asian Americans are identifying themselves as Democrats at a quicker pace than any other racial group.

Many Republicans worry this election will only accelerate that trend, damaging their party for years to come with what is now the fastest-growing minority in the United States. And the Republican presidential nominee, Mr Donald Trump, is not helping.

His attacks on the Chinese - which he has sometimes delivered in a crude, mocking accent - are a feature of his populist campaign. He has suggested cutting off immigration from the Philippines, citing fears that the long-time US ally poses the same national security threat as countries like Syria and Afghanistan.

His talk of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants has also stirred up painful memories among a group that has been singled out under US law before, whether by the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred the immigration of Chinese labourers until 1943, or by the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

"It's like we are going back in time," said Mr Marc Matsuo of Las Vegas, who grew up in Hawaii with parents of Japanese ancestry and recalled how his family used to feel uncomfortable expressing their heritage, to the point where they would not speak Japanese.


He now helps register Asian Americans to vote. "I was always brought up that you don't talk about religion, you don't talk about politics. Not any more," he added.

Though Asian Americans are still just 4 per cent of the overall eligible voting population, their political power is concentrated in swing states like Nevada and Virginia.

In and around Las Vegas, home to one of the country's largest Asian populations, this means printing campaign leaflets in Korean, having a Vietnamese translator on standby at speeches, publishing op-ed articles in the local Filipino newspaper and hiring employees who know enough Mandarin to recruit voters at the Chinatown seafood market.

Mrs Hillary Clinton's campaign has a resident staff member in Las Vegas dedicated to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Staff and volunteers here speak Mandarin, Korean, Hindi and Tagalog.

Although Mr Trump's campaign announced a new Asian Pacific American advisory committee last week, Republican National Committee spokesman Ninio Fetalvo said the outreach to Asian-American voters had been coordinated until now mainly through two workers at the party's Washington headquarters. The party has also printed materials in a variety of Asian languages in cities like Las Vegas.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Trump seen as pushing Asian Americans into Democratic arms'. Print Edition | Subscribe