World / Politics

As U.S. midterm elections draw near, majority of Japanese-Americans support Democrats

by Ko Hirano

Kyodo

As the Democratic Party pushes to win back a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 6 it’s likely to have the support of most Japanese-Americans in an apparent protest against Republican President Donald Trump’s hard-line approach to immigration, a recent poll shows.

Asian-American voters on a whole favor Democrats over Republicans by about a two-to-one ratio in both the House and Senate races, with such voters aligning themselves with the Democrats on issues such as health care, racial discrimination, the environment and gun control, the poll shows. But Republicans fare stronger on issues like taxes and national security, as well as jobs and the economy.

David Inoue, a leading advocate of civil rights for Japanese-Americans — whose number totaled 1.4 million in 2015 according to Pew Research Center data — draws parallels between Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“For many Japanese-Americans, our disagreements with the policies of the Trump administration are deeply personal,” said Inoue, executive director of the 8,000-member Japanese-American Citizens League.

Reflecting his sentiments, only 14 percent of Japanese-Americans are happy with Trump’s presidency, compared with 24 percent for Chinese-Americans and 28 percent for Indian-Americans, according to the poll conducted by Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote and Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders Data.

The survey of 1,316 registered voters who identify as Asian-American was conducted by telephone and online from Aug. 23 to Oct. 4.

Polls and political analysts suggest it will be difficult for the Democrats to retake a majority in both chambers. All 435 seats in the House and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate are up for grabs in the first major litmus test for the Trump administration.

Referring to Trump’s restrictions on travel to the United States from a handful of Muslim-majority countries, Inoue said, “The Muslim ban hearkens back to the anti-Japanese immigration discrimination of the early 20th century.”

“The singling out of Muslims combined with the president’s rhetoric is exactly like the racism that led to Japanese-American incarceration during World War II,” he said.

“The ongoing policy of indefinitely imprisoning refugee families coming to our country is exactly what was done to Japanese-American families as well.”

Advocating the values of “diversity and inclusion,” Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui, a Japanese-American seeking re-election in California’s sixth congressional district, also criticized Trump’s immigration policy.

“The story of our country’s progress is inseparably linked to the contributions of millions of immigrants from all over the world,” said Matsui, whose parents were interned during World War II.

Inoue, a second-generation Japanese-American, said the Japanese-American Citizens League — headquartered in San Francisco — is a nonpartisan organization, but that it “tends to support issues in a way that align with the Democrats.”

While Japanese-Americans are united in their opposition to Trump’s immigration policy, Inoue acknowledged they are divided over his “America First” trade policy, with some supporting the president’s moves aimed at protecting American industry and workers.

Some members back the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional free trade agreement signed by Trump’s predecessor, Democratic President Barack Obama, because “they felt TPP was not protective enough of some of the industries in the United States,” Inoue said.

Such a sentiment is shared by the broader-American public. A new poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News finds Republicans are preferred over Democrats on trade issues by a 17-point margin, up from an eight-point advantage in August.

Asked about the Trump administration’s push to further open agriculture and automobile markets in Japan, as well as a threat to impose tariffs on automobile imports from the country, Inoue said, “As Japanese-Americans, we don’t ever want to get into a place where we have hostile trade relations between the United States and Japan.”

“Obviously we want to support open trade, but we also want to make sure that American businesses are supported by our government,” he said. “It’s a very difficult and delicate issue.”