Opinion | Trump took a slow boat in wooing Asian-American voters

Trump took a slow boat in wooing Asian-American voters

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Campaign websites in US elections often use templates to create pages that appeal to constituencies such as Latinos and African Americans.

The worst change a few words or phrases to fit the group being courted and post the obligatory photo of the candidate cuddling a minority baby or two. But the pitches pretty much look alike.

The webpage for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) on www.hillaryclinton.com isn’t boilerplate. It boasts plenty of original content: data points on the growth rates of Asian-owned businesses in the US and what Democrat candidate Clinton says she’ll do to help them prosper. There’s also gender wage inequality material noting that AAPI women, on average, earn 86 cents for every dollar earned by a white male. You can also download tool kits that include social media graphics, factsheets, and AAPI for Hillary Commit to Vote Cards.

Trump, in comparison, has done little to massage his campaign message for Asian-Americans. The www.donaldjtrump.com campaign website is devoid of any webpages that specifically appeal to the community, or indeed other minorities.

Field outreach to Asian-Americans has stepped up in recent months — particularly in swing states. But as Trump’s support within the Republican Party dwindles following a recent “tape” scandal detailing his sexual abuse of women, such party-sponsored campaign initiatives often focus on aiding local GOP candidates — not Trump.

“Trump doesn’t make an attempt to court Asian voters, even though a lot of them are very good customers of his casinos”

Polls mainly credit Trump’s fierce anti-immigrant stance for driving Asian-Americans to the Democrats. But Clinton’s carefully tailored efforts online, combined with a strong campaign ground operation, have also helped her nationally in luring Asian-American voters. The tack may pay off in seizing battleground states such as Virginia and Nevada, where thousands of Asians reside in pivotal election districts and poll margins between Trump and Clinton still bounce in the single digits.

“Hillary set up an Asian American advisory committee early in her campaign and made actual outreach to the community. I think that made an impression,” said Margaret Fung, executive director of the nonprofit New York-based Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).

Clinton likewise appears to be riding a tailwind from younger, “millennial” Asian-American voters because of her criticism of police shootings of African Americans.

“The concern about racism is very high among millennial Asian-American voters age 18-34. They are the ones talking about racism as a significant concern,” says Karthick Ramakrishnan, the director of a recent National Asian-American Survey that found that 59 % of registered Asian-American voters back Clinton, against 16 % for Trump. The remainder are undecided or support third-party candidates.

Not everyone likes Hillary

At the same time, Clinton’s support in the Chinese American community appears to be weaker when compared to other Asian-American groups. Yungman Lee, a respected community banker and former New York state banking official, reckons that 60 % of Chinese Americans currently support Clinton, as against 40 % for Trump.

Lee says some ethnic Chinese harbor misgivings about Clinton due to her confrontational stance toward Beijing on foreign policy issues. “People are worrying that she’ll bring more tension in the South China Sea because of her hawkish image and that the US and China will come to blows in an actual conflict,” said Lee, who ran unsuccessfully this year as a Democrat to represent New York’s 7th Congressional District. The district takes in Manhattan’s Chinatown and parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

Trump played wrong hand

Whatever Trump does in the last days before the November 8 election, he has clearly missed the boat in courting Asian-Americans. He could have offset his anti-immigrant rhetoric, for instance, by articulating his skills as a property developer and businessman in ways that appealed to the Asian-American business community. Or, he might have shrewdly manipulated interethnic rivalries by pitting Asians against African Americans and Hispanics on issues such as affirmative action or college admissions. Trumpeting the popularity of his gambling casinos with Asian bettors was another lost opportunity.

“Trump doesn’t make an attempt to court Asian voters, even though a lot of them are very good customers of his casinos,” Lee quipped.

On a more serious level, Lee notes that most recent Chinese immigrants to the US lean toward Trump due to his business background. “Many are from big cities in China,” he said. “They are fairly young, have made their first or second pots of money and tend to be more conservative and mercantile in their thinking.” This makes them distinct from earlier waves of Chinese immigrants.

He says this voter bloc also tends to identify less with other minority groups like African Americans and has less appreciation of issues like racial discrimination.

“They don’t understand American society and our relationship with other minorities,” Lee said. “When I have a discussion with this group, I always talk about our black brothers and sisters, that we always stand on the same side in term of big policies in this country. But I don’t think they get that yet.”

Trump could have made more of a concerted effort to woo such voters. But in the end, the GOP candidate chose not to adulterate his views on immigration, trade and the economy for fear of alienating his hardcore and predominantly white supporters. In so doing, he lost any chance of winning over Asian-Americans or other groups.

Doug Tsuruoka
Doug Tsuruoka is a US-based newspaper editor and former foreign correspondent who's worked for the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asia Times' original print edition, Newsweek, and other major news media. He has reported from Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.
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