GOP faces big problems in Little Saigon

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In 2016, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump 69% to 25% among AAPI voters nationwide. Trump beat that pace in 2020 but still lost a landslide margin – 61% to 34%, according to exit polls. In California, the outcome was even worse: Joe Biden won 3 out of 4 Asian voters.

Even in Orange County, among Vietnamese American voters who have long been part of the Republican coalition, the GOP is losing ground. After an election year in which AAPI voters traveled across the country in record numbers, it is more urgent than ever for the party to rethink its approach.

“The only way to develop the base of the GOP is to stick to the basic issues, to tackle the issues that would make the GOP an attractive party for hard-working immigrants, and not so much to rally around a cult figure. “said Tyler Diep, a former member of the Orange County Republican Assembly. “And I think if the party can come back to that state again then it can be competitive nationally. But if not, I’m not sure how successful we can be as a party in the long run. with the AAPI community. ”

A recent Tuesday afternoon, with September 14 The Governor of California recalls that the elections are fast approaching, more than 20 people gathered in the newly opened community center for awareness training for Asian Americans.

Amid walls lined with images of the neighborhood – like the iconic Asian Garden Mall and its ornate welcome arches – and photos of RNC President Ronna McDaniel and young Korean American representatives Young Kim and Michelle Steele, organizers have coached participants on best practices.

When a volunteer specifically asks for advice in Vietnamese for engaging with the many conservative Vietnamese voters in her community, organizers enthusiastically nod their heads promising additional help.

The approach is a step in the right direction, said Janet Nguyen, a member of the Republican Assembly, who represents Westminster..

Nguyen points out that unlike his own party, local Democratic Party offices have several full-time Vietnamese-American employees to engage with voters year-round. Republicans are also behind when it comes to investing in Vietnamese-language media. In the past, the Orange County Democratic Party ran radio shows on Little Saigon Radio with the Vietnam American Democratic Club, a grassroots organization that also airs its own TV shows on key issues.

“The Democratic Party that I’ve seen over the years is that they know it’s not even a place for them to bother. But they always make the effort, they always go there, ”she said. “[Democrats are] that friendly face that’s always there that always showed, “Hey, we’re here for you to talk about problems.” [Voters] not hearing what the Republican Party stands for, or remembering what we stand for. This is why people are moving away.

Steele and Young’s victories in 2020 provide a playbook for victory among Asian American voters, California GOP President Jessica Millan Patterson said, but they will need to maintain early and active engagement with them. voters if they want continued success.

” We can not do without. This is something that has to happen all year round for us to be successful in the long term, ”she said. “California Democrats have been doing this for a very long time. They have come out in the communities and made people feel like they care about their issues.

Vietnamese-American voters are still one of the only ethnicities within the Asian-American community to have a more registered Republicans than Democrats. But it may not stay that way for long: Republican registration numbers for Americans of Vietnamese descent in Orange County have been slowly declining since the 1990s.

One of the most obvious reasons for the decline in support is a generational gap in party identification. First-generation Vietnamese American voters were drawn to the GOP’s strong stance against communism when they migrated, Westminster Mayor Tri Ta said, and the Conservatives’ struggle against socialism continues to garner their support. But in the nine years since he was first elected Vietnamese-American mayor in the country, Tra says he has seen a noticeable shift in the approach to politics of young Vietnamese American voters.

The figures confirm it. Among those who registered with a major political party, about 68% of Vietnamese American voters aged 50 and over in Orange County were registered as Republicans on election day last year, according to figures from Political Data Inc., an election data company used by both parties in California. But more than 65% of those 49 and under were registered as Democrats.

Tra said the RNC community center needs a full-time, year-round Vietnamese-American cultural ambassador who can help overcome language and cultural barriers that prevent people from participating in civic life. Tailored outreach in the mother tongue is essential to capture the attention of Asian American voters in general, he said: 57% of the Asian American population was born in another country, and the group has the highest rates of limited English proficiency at 34 percent.

“At the end of the day, I think Vietnamese American voters, they need to feel really comfortable [to] realize that their voice is recognized in the party, ”Ta said. And a cultural ambassador “must understand Vietnamese culture, understand Vietnamese customs, must understand the language, understand everything about Vietnamese”.

At the community center, RNC volunteer Jacqueline Le said she was among those trying to bridge the cultural and linguistic divide by speaking to voters through the Vietnamese-language media, which is often more widely consumed than general public information sources in English. She said she was getting involved in sending information about Republican campaign events to these media, because “in my experience the elderly people listen to Vietnamese radio a lot, Vietnamese TV channels”.

Local Republicans find some solace here in the fact that while the GOP is no longer as attractive as it once was to many Vietnamese Americans – in part because the second and third generations are more liberal and no ‘have no memory of the Communist regime in Vietnam – these voters have become independent rather than Democrats.

It’s people like Danny Zheong, 42, a Vietnamese immigrant who works in a herbal and cosmetics store in Little Saigon. As his boss watches a Vietnamese video on Youtube from the news while he is hidden behind towers of local teas and snail oil creams, Zheong says he doesn’t like to talk about current affairs. . Like many shop workers in Hanoi Plaza, where the flags of South Vietnam and the United States flutter side by side, he considers himself apolitical, does not identify with any party, and is willing to give no one a chance. any candidate who can stimulate the economy. .

He voted for Biden last year, but it was more of a vote against Trump, Zheong said. That doesn’t mean his vote will go to the Democratic candidate next year in the midterm elections, which he hasn’t given much thought to.

Fostering a welcoming community for voters like Zheong – who have no party allegiance – is vital to the party’s future success in places like Little Saigon, Nguyen said.

“I think we have to remember that these electoral bases are ours,” she said. “It’s only up to us to lose, and for [Democrats] to win.”


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