The Good, The Gaffes, and a General Election: The AAPI Vote for Trump and Biden
We’ll start with an age-old disclaimer: determining the voting habits of any group of Americans is difficult enough as it is; further, it’s an almost impossible task to understand the opinions clouded by the complexities of a multi-ethnic Asian population for the 2020 election. However, it’s important to recognize that the actions of President Trump and Vice President Biden -- during their respective tenures and campaigns -- can be a determining factor to understand how Asian-Americans may feel about voting this year. By analyzing their ups and downs with the Asian community, we can get a glimpse of how AAPIs may feel about these two candidates on the basis of Asian-American issues.
Trump has a few things to show off to Asians. He’s appointed the most Asian federal judges of any President by their fourth year in office (however, his nominee diversity of non-white judges is the lowest of his 3 predecessors). Earlier this year, his campaign launched an Asian-Americans for Trump initiative, aimed at bringing awareness to recent policies which have helped Asians impacted by lockdowns (such as the CARES Act or Paycheck Protection Program). Trump also took the time this year to denounce hate crimes against Asians amid the pandemic, stating the need to “totally protect our Asian American community,” and that COVID-19 “is not their fault in any way, shape, or form.”
Going the extra mile, Biden has an entire agenda laid out for the AAPI community (which you can read here). It includes policies such as disaggregating federal data on Asians to portray ethnic diversity, eliminating language barriers in government, and supporting the country’s 2 million AAPI-run businesses. His appointment of Kamala Harris (who is half-Indian) as his V.P. pick also appeals to South Asian voters. Biden and the Democratic Party have even labeled the AAPI community to be a deciding group in the 2020 election, earning him more than 250 endorsements from Asian-American leaders and politicians across the country as he has gradually increased his focus on racial issues in recent months.
For Trump, addressing Asian-Americans is a mountainous challenge. With a 58% unfavorability rating among Asians during the 2018 midterms, Trump additionally lost votes from the 18% of Asian-American Republicans who disapprove of his presidency. Making it worse is his deliberate use of the terms “kung-flu” and “China virus,” both of which have alienated Asian voters; these words are synonymous with racist and hateful language against AAPIs which has contributed to 27.2% of all recent hate crimes reported by Asians to include virulent anti-Chinese rhetoric and discrimination since the beginning of the pandemic. Trump has also mocked Asian leaders like South Korean President Moon Jae-in or Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by using fake, stereotypical accents at his rallies to describe trade negotiations with these leaders.
Biden doesn’t have it easy either. At a recent forum hosted by APIA Vote, he questionably stated that “people don’t make a distinction… from a South Korean and someone from Beijing.” Biden also came under fire from Asian organizations like the NAKASEC Action Fund, accusing one of his campaign ads of contributing to nationalist, anti-Chinese sentiment by making no distinction between the PRC government and the Chinese people. Biden’s problem even goes back to his 2008 campaign when he told an Indian reporter (directly to his face) that “you cannot go to a 7/11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.”
So What Now?