Friday, March 18, 2016

Is 2016 the year of voter resurgence? What this could mean for the Vietnamese-American community

This article was originally published in the Viet Tide on March 18, 2016. It was written by Ness White and has been edited accordingly.

The rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were jokes to political pundits and junkies last year. This year, the mainstream media has begun to take these jokes seriously, as they could dramatically change not just the outcome but the mood of the 2016 presidential elections.

While business mogul Trump is the frontrunning Republican candidate and independent U.S. Sen. Sanders is running as a Democrat, the support these two polar opposites have gained appears to show that a growing portion of the right and left bases are fed up with the political establishment. As such, this could be the year voter turnout surges, as Americans seek to keep establishment candidates -- notably Hillary Clinton, former
Democratic secretary of state under President Barack Obama -- out of the White House.

For example, in the March 8 Michigan Primaries -- where Trump and Sanders gained the most votes for their parties -- 2.5 million voters cast their ballots. This is the highest voter turnout in Michigan primary history. Both candidates have been reported to draw record crowds at their campaign rallies; and Sanders has raised the most individual campaign contributions, while Trump has been reported to be responsible for a revolution among Republicans, having created a spike in voter turnout for the party this campaign season.

The Viet Tide has reported on low voter turnout in the past, particularly during its 2014 midterm elections coverage. Specifically, the magazine shared that some 36 percent of voters nationwide made it to the polls during the general elections in November that year. Historically, midterm elections years -- when only local, statewide and congressional elections are held -- tend to have lower voter turnout than presidential elections years.

However, even during the 2012 presidential elections voter turnout was considered problematic nationwide, and particularly for states like California and Texas -- where a large portion of our readership resides. Part of what has been called voter apathy in the mainstream and even alternative media has been attributed to the promises President Obama made during the 2008 campaign cycle, but never actualized.

“Ignoring the fact that Obama was always a well-marketed corporate candidate with moderate conservative (neoliberal) positions, a lot of people got their hopes up that he might be different,” political writer Tim Hjersted wrote in a Films For Action article this month. “It's understandable people don't want to get their hopes up again.

“It's not surprising that so many people say the game is rigged and elections are pointless.”

At least, this has been the story for mainstream Americans. But for the Vietnamese-American community, things might be different.

For example, according to a 2013 National Asian American Survey report, Vietnamese-American voter turnout was at 81 percent nationwide during the 2012 presidential elections, higher than the national average of 57.5 percent. Vietnamese Americans also supported President Obama over rival and former Republican Massachusetts gov. Mitt Romney by 61 percent -- again, higher than the national percentage of 51 percent.

Remembering a history of political repression in Vietnam, Vietnamese Americans perhaps see voting differently than the average mainstream American. While voter apathy for a mainstream voter might seem an appropriate response to a feeling that one’s voice doesn’t matter, this does not appear to be the case for voters in the Vietnamese-American community.

But the far-left and far-right leading candidates who are galvanizing the mainstream American public do not seem to hold Vietnamese Americans’ best interest. For example, the Viet Tide has reported that Trump’s immigration proposal released last year and his rhetoric during much of his campaign has been highly anti-immigrant -- which could impact the Vietnamese-American community that is among the largest foreign-born Asian-American communities. Sanders, on the other hand, has been described as a Democratic socialist, which might conjure up images of the very political concept Vietnamese Americans escaped when fleeing Vietnam.

In essence, what might be driving forces for the mainstream American vote this year could be something of a threat to the Vietnamese-American vote. Further, if Vietnamese-American voters do not back Trump or Sanders, would they put their weight behind Clinton?

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