Vietnamese-Americans are more likely to choose President Donald Trump over Democrat Joe Biden in November’s election, according to the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey conducted by three Asian American civic engagement groups. But these results only enforce the growing frustration among a younger, more liberal Vietnamese-American generation.
The survey – referred to as AAVS and conducted by APIAVote, AAPI Data, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – polled 1,569 registered voters of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Filipino descent across the nation.
When its results were released September 15, members of Joe Biden’s campaign celebrated the support among Asian American voters, the Los Angeles Times reported. Overall, the AAVS showed Asian Americans preferred Biden to Trump by 54% to 30%.
But there was one Asian group to still lean toward Trump, the data showed.
Out of all the Vietnamese-Americans surveyed, almost half said they would vote for Trump if the election were held today. Around a third said they’d go for Biden. Similarly, Vietnamese-Americans was the only group surveyed to identify more Republican than Democrat, though almost a third called themselves Independents.
For many younger Vietnamese-American voters, such as 28-year-old Henry Nguyễn, these results are a reminder of the growing divide between the younger Vietnamese generation and their parents' conservative views.
“The older generation, they come from a refugee experience,” Nguyễn said. “They believe in military and violence because of the war they were coming from.”
Nguyễn, who graduated from UCLA in 2015, lives with his parents in Hawthorne, Los Angeles. Though he spends his days reading the news and participating in Vietnamese political action groups on Facebook, he finds it difficult to talk politics with his parents, who are voting for Trump in November.
Nguyễn plans to vote for Biden, citing Biden’s support of people with disabilities as one of his main reasons. Current limitations to the Americans with Disabilities Act “makes it harder for people like me to get internships or get promoted for a job,” he said.
Growing up, Nguyễn had conservative views due to his parents' influence. He only became liberal once he moved out for college.
“I followed my family’s viewpoints in middle school,” he said. “And when I was in high school, I never really talked about politics.”
Gina Nguyễn, a USC freshman from Biloxi, Mississippi, also only got into politics after Trump was first elected.
“I definitely believed in climate change and things like LBGTQ rights,” Gina Nguyễn said, “but beyond that, even some of the biggest issues now – abortion, marijuana – I didn’t even think about those things before 2016.”
Gina Nguyễn cites her mother’s political apathy as the reason she never thought about politics. Though her mother immigrated to the United States in 1995, this is the first year she’s registered to vote. Gina Nguyễn said her mother only registered after hearing about looting and rioting during recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Though Gina Nguyễn supports Black Lives Matter and says she’s on team “settle for Biden” (she voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in March’s primary), her mother will be voting for Trump.
“I’ve tried talking to her about it, but it’s so hard,” Gina Nguyễn said. “If I try to explain things about my point of view, it grows to anger and aggravation, and it makes her lash out. So I’m kind of scared to talk about it.”
Alex Luu, a 24-year-old spoken-word poet from the San Gabriel Valley, described himself as a “democrat in a house full of conservatives.” But he doesn’t have to worry about his parents voting for Trump in November, because his parents don’t vote at all.
Luu’s parents lean conservative, but he said they’ve been irritated with Trump as of late due to his handling of COVID-19. They also don’t like that Trump refers to COVID-19 as “the China virus” or “the Wuhan virus,” which has caused an uptick in reports of anti-Asian hate crimes. But these feelings are not important enough to get them to vote.
“The only time they voted was for Bill Clinton, because my father loved how he handled the economy back then,” Luu said. “Because of our lower-middle-class status, their feeling is whatever happens is not going to affect them directly unless it’s referring to taxes.”
Over two-thirds of Vietnamese-American voters on the AAVS said they considered jobs and the economy to be an “extremely important” issue in the upcoming election – higher than any other group surveyed.
Like Gina Nguyễn, Luu will be voting for Biden in November, though he said he’d vote for any Democratic nominee. Luu values candidates who advocate for prison reform, more funding for education, and support people of color. Similar to Henry Nguyễn and Gina Nguyễn, Luu grew up with conservative views due to his parents' influence.
“My father is the head honcho of my family and his friend groups, so a lot of what he says, people were just sort of yes-man to him,” Luu said. Luu’s views changed his senior year of high school, when he first started performing at poetry slams and hearing about the experiences of other people of color.
“That’s when I gained an empathy for other people and other classes and their struggles,” Luu said, “because it wasn’t talked about in my high school. Politics just wasn’t in the discussion with me and my friends.”
A lack of nuanced political discussion is a common issue in the older Vietnamese-American community said Joe Nam Do, a community organizer for the DC Mayor’s Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs.
“Unfortunately, I think a great many [of Vietnamese-Americans] are apathetic and won’t vote,” Do said. “I think this reflects what you see in a lot of America: heavy enthusiasm on the Trump side, lukewarm support for an uninspiring Biden.”
Do said many older Vietnamese-American voters are drawn to Trump simply for his anti-China stance, something Gina Nguyễn sees reflected in her mother. Foreign relations with China, Gina Nguyễn said, seems to be one of the most important issues for older Vietnamese-American voters.
“[My mother’s] view is that Trump can fight against China a lot better than the other candidates,” Gina Nguyễn said. “She believes if Trump weren’t in office, China would’ve taken advantage of Vietnam a lot more.”
The two countries have shared an unsteady relationship in recent decades, partly due to territorial disputes over the South China Sea. On the AAVS, over a third of Vietnamese-American voters called foreign policy in Asia an “extremely important” issue – the highest, again, out of all other groups surveyed.
“A lot of [my mother’s] anger and hatred for the Chinese just comes from our history and what was taught growing up,” Gina Nguyễn said. “She doesn’t like ordering things from China, or buying Chinese products from the supermarket. My Brother’s girlfriend is Taiwanese, but all she sees is Chinese.”
Gina Nguyễn emphasized the influence of friends and social media in promoting Vietnamese conservatism, something Henry Nguyễn echoed as well. While Gina Nguyễn’s mother discusses current events with friends at her temple, Henry Nguyễn’s parents learn about politics through pro-Trump YouTube videos.
Alt-right YouTubers like THE KINGRADIO (a Vietnamese daily news channel with 46.5K subscribers) and Trần Nhật Phong (260K subscribers) target older Vietnamese-Americans who don’t speak English, Henry Nguyễn said. Since his parents never went to college, they’ve developed their negative views on immigration from these types of channels.
“Vietnamese media talks about these conflicts with propaganda,” Henry Nguyễn said, explaining how Vietnamese conservatism is also caused by a “lack of access to culturally competent outreach.”
Half of all respondents on the AAVS, Vietnamese or not, said they hadn’t been contacted by the Democratic party in the past year. A little more than half said the same about the Republican party.
Luu cited this lack of voter outreach as another reason for his parents' apathy.
“My parents think as long as we take care of ourselves, we’ll be fine. This country will run as it has, and we just have to be okay,” Luu said. “I don’t feel like there’s enough being done by politicians to raise awareness of issues that actually affect us.”
While his parents may feel like a lost cause, Luu has hope for a more exciting, politically-active younger generation of Vietnamese-Americans.
“The fate of the country depends on our power as individuals,” Luu said. “Why waste it on such a historic time?”