Tuesday, 22 November 2011

the asian vote

i've been meaning to respond to this comment for a while now, and since i didn't get around to it in a timely fashion, thought i'd turn it into a post. this is the bit that really annoys me:

It is unfortunate that Labour and the Greens woke up to the power of the new Asian immigrant vote way too late...

it particularly annoys me regarding the labour party (and yes, i know i have a particular bias in that regard) because it so blatantly ignores history. going back to 1999, the night helen clark was elected, she thumbed her nose at winston peters by emphasising the intention of the new government to espouse values of inclusiveness. the crowd whe was addressing in mt albert that night was particularly multi-coloured and multi-cultured, especially because mt roskill and mt albert have a high proportion of immigrants of colour.

it took a while for that inclusiveness to translate to policy, but the 5th labour government set up the office of ethnic affairs, developed a settlement strategy and put significant funding into it resulting in a number of migrant resource centres around the country, and set up language line so that people with poor english could access important government services. the party structure set up an ethnic sector which fitted into key decision-making processes around policy and candidate selection. labour MPs were turning up in numbers to cultural events that national MPs weren't even interested in, and the government started to have official celebrations of cultural events in parliament, to recognise the diversity of nz'ers.

i'd say that until the 2008 election, labour was the only major party that had taken the asian/immigrant (all asian nz'ers aren't immigrants, duh) vote seriously and developed policy that specifically addressed that community.

i can't comment so much on the greens in terms of policy, because i don't know what specific policy they had with regard to the asian vote - and yes, i'm too lazy to look right now. i do know that the green party position on foreign policy was certainly popular with parts of the asian community. but the disadvantage the greens had and continue to have is that there is no asian candidate in the top 20 of their party list. they don't have candidates that come from these communities and speak to them. i find this an odd thing in a party that would appear to value a parliament which looks like the population it purports to represent. in terms of parties of the left, the mana party similarly has no asian candidates in their top 10 (which i'd see as equivalent to the green's to 20, given it's a newer & smaller party).

so what changed in 2008? a couple of things. the national party got rid of don brash. in 2005, dr brash made it so easy to campaign in asian communities, and especially after his immigration speech which was a real piece of nastiness. gerry brownlee chimed in, as did other national MPs, and i remember mr brownlee saying that he couldn't see the point of having "token" asian candidates on a party list at the radio nz debate in hamilton. he didn't even consider the possibility that the asian candidates from other parties might have talent and ability.

but in 2008 we had mr key, being all cuddly and friendly with the minorities. he parachuted a couple into electable positions on the list (while mr brownlee must have furiously held his tongut), ensured that national MPs started turning up in force to all asian events (chinese new year; indian independance day, national day celebrations etc), and from what i've heard, started inviting important leaders from these communities to his home for direct and personal chats. national had finally realised that under MMP, an asian vote counted as much as any other vote, and there was around 10% of the vote to be had from asian & other ethnic minority communities.

the other factor was, of course, winston peters. well known for his inflammatory speeches around asians, he was pretty unpopular with most asians - though not all, by a long shot. funnily enough, some of those who had migrated in the 50s and 60s didn't like the new lot of immigrants coming in and actually supported his views on immigration. but generally, i'd say he was pretty unpopular. the fact that he was in a governing arrangement with the labour party was certainly used effectively by national in 2008 as a campaigning point.

it is quite clear now that the asian vote isn't as clearly with labour as it was back in 2005. as long as national steers clear of the brash-type rhetoric, it takes a strategic campaigning tool out of the hands of the left. there are some other crucial factors regarding the asian vote. because of the way our immigration policies work, the asian migrants we take in are predominantly upper middle class & well educated. this demographic tends to be conservative in their views, especially around issues like justice (they respond so well to the "lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key" stuff), social justice (oh those lazy bludging beneficiaries and breeding-on-a-benefit welfare mums) and employment law (many of them hate the minimum wage rising, and can be pretty negative about other aspects of worker protection). because many asians have been unable to find work in their field, they end up in small business and see national as the party that favours business - regardless of the fact that actually small businesses have tended to make higher profits under labour governments, simply because labour governments try to ensure that those at the bottom have higher incomes. many, but not all, of these voters will be socially conservative - opposed to restrictions on child discipline, favouring "traditional" family structures, quite happy to discriminate on grounds other than race (although often discriminating on race as well).

i think the left will have a much more difficult time in winning back the asian vote, but i think the key is to stop thinking about the asian vote as a single community with a single set of values. just like any other part of the electorate, they have variation in voting patterns based on income levels and cultural values. asian voters are sophisticated enough to think about a wide range of issues, and they certainly have strong opinions whichever way those opinions fall. the appeal to freedom from discrimination is no longer enough to win their votes, mostly because it's only the likes of the increasingly irrelevant dr brash trying to push those buttons with his "one-law-for-all" stuff. even mr peters has significantly toned down and i haven't heard him pushing immigration and the threat of asian invasion this time around. everyone else is spouting platitudes about diversity and inclusiveness.

this election, i don't see any party out to target the asian vote at all. perhaps this is a sign that nz politics is maturing. a sign that parties recognise that the things concerning asian voters concern all voters - employment, education, health, personal safety. the arguments the left needs to persuade asian voters are the same arguments needed to persuade all other voters. the only areas of difference are employment and immigration. as regards employment, it remains much harder to find employment if you have a non-european name and a non-kiwi accent. as regards immigration, asian nz'ers would certainly respond to a fairer and more transparent immigration system that had stronger checks and balances.

i don't think national has done anything at all to benefit asian voters in this term. they've certainly failed to improve employment, they've taken away ACE funding which had been of huge benefit to migrant communities in terms of helping them to settle in nz, they've haven't done anything substantive to improve the performance of nz immigration services, they've made early childhood education more expensive. the best that can be said of them is that they've managed to keep the office of ethnic affairs, keep language line and not shut down the migrant resource centres. no-one has been asking what will happen if they get back in - will cuts in government spending hit these areas? it seems highly likely.

it will be hard work to bring the asian vote back to the left, but just as hard as it will be to bring other voters back. the left has a lot of work to do in overcoming the anti-union, anti-poor people, poverty-as-a-lifestyle-choice rhetoric of the right. i think we can win that argument, i think the majority of people do care about having a fairer society. it's just a matter of trying to get that message out across all sectors of society and moving our country back to one that looks after all its citizens.


LudditeJourno said...

Thanks stargazer, I really appreciate some of the history here I was unaware of. Just so I'm clear, who does asian include for you in this post? I get stuck between how the term is used in the UK and here sometimes.

R Watts said...

I think there are Asians and then there are Asians. Many of the ones born here are pretty indistinguishable as New Zealanders with predominately black hair, the same applies to those who came here in much earlier.

The major difference nowadays is that the Asian voter can retain some of their culture due to a critical mass of other Asians. This is the cause of some of the racial conflict simply because they aren't so much assimilating as they are assuming their own distinct identity.

LudditeJourno said...

R Watts - or alternatively we could say the cause of the racial conflict is the resistance from other New Zealanders to incoming migrant groups who wish to maintain cultural ideas, processes, structures, celebrations, beliefs etc etc etc which are important to them. I'm really uncomfortable with failing to acknowledge racism when it comes to talking about immigration, because it's fundamental in my opinion.

stargazer said...

LJ, yes totally, the indian subcontinent forms part of asia, hence we tend to be known as south asians. asia also includes many of the former soviet states.

R Watts: assimilation is an absolutely failed policy. it didn't work on maori when they forced to stop speaking their language and give up many aspects of their culture. it didn't work on the dutch who were forced to change their names, to not congregate, to not speak their own language. the dutch community is strongly reclaiming their cultural heritage in recent times.

if a country is going to take immigrants, it needs to accept the diversity that comes with those immigrants. i don't see why any person can't keep their distinct identity. are all white people beer-swilling rugby-lovers? i can show you plenty who aren't, but because their skin colour isn't different you don't seem to feel the need to make them assimilate. if there is to be only one culture here, then first force compliance from all the white people, so that they all follow one religion, vote for one political party, dress in one style and speak in one way. if you're not willing to impose that on them, why impose assimilation on anyone else?

actually, i'd say you're the one most failing to assimilate here, given that the majority prefer to value diversity.

Moz said...

stargazer: nice article. And yes, when I read the "the left doesn't have asians" I thought of you :)

I like to view the "one culture" thing as meaning "we have a distinctive kiwi culture that is remarkable for its inclusiveness and diversity". We all have some relationship with rugby, even if it's ambivalent or avoidant, for example. And I suspect we all know that Te Papa is a museum and The Haka is not. Which is more Maori language than most people know.

I don't buy the idea of assimilation. It happens if you let it, and the melting pot effect is worthwhile in itself (more ethnic restuarants!) as well as leading to more interesting people just because they have more options growing up.

Hugh said...

Moz, apparently the term "melting pot" is falling out of favour now, because it implies that the end point is homogeny. "Tossed salad" is what I hear people say now, because it implies the parts are intermixed but remain distinct. (No analingus jokes, please)

Re: the main point of this post, Stargazer is right that the Brash National Party was reasonably anti-Asian, but she is wrong to imply/infer that prior to Brash it was more of the same. The 1990s era National government was relatively pro-Asian.

The first Asian MP in New Zealand as Pansy Wong, a National party member.

stargazer said...

hugh, the "first asian MP" means very little if there were no policies or actions that were of benefit to the asian community. i can assure that national wasn't turning up to events in the 1990s, they weren't doing anything at all around settlement policy or immigration policy, on employment or any other issue that was of importance to voters. if they were making any effort to attract the asian vote, i didn't see it.

labour, on the other hand, was putting in place specific, identifiable measures such at the "ethnic perspectives in policy" document which resulted in a significant change in police recruitment policy and police engagement with ethnic minority communities, amongst other things.

if you want to make the case that national pre-brash was "relatively pro-asian", i'd like to see more evidence than a single asian MP - one who was never made minister inside cabinet even when she was a senior MP at 2008 and relatively competent compared to the others (and the issues that brought her down hadn't yet happened).

Hugh said...

Stargazer, I'm sympathetic to your argument that the real measure of support is not the appointment of ministers or the election of MPs, but the establishment of policies.

However I will point out that the Chinese New Zealander and Korean New Zealander communities have always supported the National Party by a wide margin, so perhaps they feel that National is doing something for them?

(And it's true that the Nats never appointed an Asian-New Zealander MP to a senior Cabinet position, but then... no party ever has)

stargazer said...

actually hugh, the chinese and korean communities were strong labour supporters, particularly through the early 2000's. the chinese community were particularly receptive to the apology by helen clark for the poll tax, as well as the $5million settlement that went with it. labour had a significant and positive engagement with both these communities, and i think continues to do so. i don't believe they supported national by a wide margin or by any margin at all really until recently.

and i know that no party has had an asian minister, but the point is that pansy was a much more senior and long-standing MP than any other asian MP in any other party. yet she was sidelined, for no readily apparent reason.

Scar said...

hugh, the "first asian MP" means very little if there were no policies or actions that were of benefit to the asian community.

I don't agree with this.
Georgina Beyer was the first transgender MP (in the world) and I think it did great things for trans people, just having her visible in parliament.
All we ever 'got' out of her being in parliament in the way of policies and actions was an assurance (read: opinion) from Crown Law that trans people are probably covered under 'sex' discrimination, should it ever go to court.

But as I said, while the 'tangible' benefits, in terms of policies and actions from Georgina being an MP are practically nil, the benefits from her simply being there were huge.
Even if she was pretty much the 'token tranny', it still massively improved the visiblity of trans people.

stargazer said...

georgina beyer's great and i think she did really well as an MP. the difference between her and ms wong is that georgina actively made herself visible. she was out there actively making public statements - for example, being at the destiny church enough-is-enough march and providing a counter-narrative. i really didn't see ms wong do that - she was never visibly speaking to asian issues, nor defending the asian community from political attack. her leader made a deliberated dog-whistle attack on immigrants in 2005 and she was nowhere to be seen. i see her role as similar to that of ms teheuheu, but at the least the latter had the courage to speak out when the leadership started to attack maori, and lost her shadow portfolio because of it.

i do agree with your basic point about "being there", but ms wong just wasn't actively being there in the way that ms beyer was.

Scar said...

I get what you're saying there, Stargazer; the only time I ever heard of Ms Wong was over some bypass issue in Auckland or something. I had no idea she existed before then.

Also, I guess from a media perspective, an Asian MP is far less salacious and controversial than a trans MP.
I wonder if there's a racist bias from the media that just doesn't find Asians to be 'interesting' news?
Have you come across anything like that, Stargazer?

stargazer said...

oh we're definitely news - especially the negative kind! but actually, i do have to give kudos to the media for picking up their game in the last 7-8 years. there's so much more coverage of asian events, more asian people contributing to op-eds, much more effort to get a response from asian & other ethnic minorities when stories come up. not to say that it's perfect - i'm still annoyed for example that there was speculation about honour killing when a woman burnt to death in her car near huntly - when there was absolutely no evidence to even support the speculation. but generally, coverage is a lot better. i think the fact that asian communities have developed their own media (papers, radio, tv) may also have affected coverage.

but in terms of ms beyer, i think she created her own media opportunities, and managed to make them very positive ones. i don't know that there was any salaciousness involved in that - she just spoke directly to the issues around discrimination and marginalisation in a way that was quite effective. i have a lot of respect for her, and think that her mere presence at the destiny church thing showed a massive amount of courage.

Hugh said...

"actually hugh, the chinese and korean communities were strong labour supporters, particularly through the early 2000's"

These communities were too big to uniformly be National party supporters, and obviously the poll tax apology was well received. But even during the relative heyday of 1999-2005, Chinese New Zealanders were more likely to be National Party supporters. If you look at the electoral map of Auckland, for instance, you'll find there is an extremely high correlation between "large Chinese-New Zealander population" and "safe National seat"

stargazer said...

correlation is not causation, hugh. when you "large chinese nz'er population", what percentage of these electorate were they? unless it's something like 30-40%, i doubt you could make the call that they were significantly voting national. and that argument gets even weaker the further back in history you go - particularly going back into the 1990s.

Hugh said...

That's true, and I doubt that the percentage is as high as you've identified - maybe as high as 25% in Pakuranga or Botany, but maybe not.

I think the real reason that correlation exists is that Chinese New Zealanders (and Korean New Zealanders too) tend to be wealthier than average, so tend to live in wealthier suburbs, which tend to vote National. You said that outside of immigration and discrimination issues Asian voters don't really have distinct interests, and I think you're right. However Asian New Zealanders are, as an ethnic group, the ethnic group most likely to have interests identified with the upper part of the economic spectrum and that means that Labour is going to have difficulty winning them over.

stargazer said...

your second para is just regurgitating my post. and as i said in the post, this demographic had good reason to be voting labour regardless of economic status - due to lack of attention from other parties & sometimes outright political attacks and due to the fact that labour has delivered some solid policies that directly affected the lives of this group. again, as i said in my post, i think this vote can come back to labour, but yes, it will take some work.

Hugh said...

It's not a regurgitation because your post talked generally about Asian New Zealanders, mine was talking specifically about Chinese and Korean New Zealanders. Asian New Zealanders are on the whole wealthier than the average New Zealander, but Chinese and Korean New Zealanders are on average even wealthier than the Asian New Zealander average.

You're right that Labour might be able to win Chinese/Korean New Zealanders over, but I think that the memory of the Poll Tax, Ethnic Affairs and National's racism is not enough, moving forward. What more do you think Labour could do to win this group over?

I should probably mention that a lot of Chinese and Korean families are strongly socially conservative, so they may also object to some of Labour's other policies on non-economic grounds.

stargazer said...

hugh, everything you've said about "chinese & koreans" is exactly what i've said about asians in general including your last point. now you're just bickering for the sake of it & i'm going to ask you stop. i'm also going to ask you to stop acting as if you're a moderator on other threads, and leave moderating decisions and comments up to us.

regarding what more labour can do, i have some ideas about that.

Hugh said...

I was trying to have a serious discussion about policy and electioneering. If you classify that as "bickering" I think it's your loss. But it's your website, your rules.

Re: my calling out Lulu, I'm aware I'm not a moderator. If I say something is a derail or spam that's only intended to be my personal opinion, not any claim to authority. I'll try to make that clear next time I do it.

stargazer said...

i don't see it as much of a loss hugh. you've not added anything much in your comments here that i haven't already said. and i'm asking you again to stop.

Anonymous said...

My observation regarding the Asian vote (and yes, I perhaps should made that clearer I was mostly referring to the new Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants)was based on what I noticed between 2002 and 2005 whilst following the Chinese language media and for some of that period working for a Chinese language newspaper. During that period I saw numerous and regular National and Act press releases in Chinese, many of which were printed verbatim, since the staff didn't need to translate them. OTH I saw no Labour or Greens material in Chinese at all. It was usually in English and translated by the newspaper staff if published.

Given the evidence you cite in your post,my assertion that Labour woke to the Asian vote too late is probably incorrect. The bias in the Chinese language media was to the right however, and while Helen Clark received her due as Prime Minister, only National and Act were actively attempting to shape the political debate in that media so very directly.


katy said...

My husband is an "Asian migrant voter" who works in an industry which has a very high proportion of "educated Asian migrant voters" in central Auckland, I enjoyed talking to him this election and the last about the kinds of conversations that his work colleagues were having about the election, partly because I have been involved in election campaigns in Epsom and Auckland Central which are communities with a high proportion of migrant Asian residents but mostly because it is interesting to get a sense of what the issues that these voters might be voting on.

I think I have to agree that it is difficult to see any of the main political parties as being particularly aligned to "Asian voters" in terms of issues or values because of the diversity within the communities; in terms of the issues my husband said came up in his office they sounded to me to be the kinds of things I would have seen as typical of workers in that industry. The one thing that I hadn't really considered was that many of his co-workers have asked him (because they know I am involved with the Green Party) what the value of voting for a minor party is. To answer this well I realised it is probably useful to talk about the roles of MPs etc beyond being being votes in the house etc, basically how our democracy works. Other Asian countries might have similar voting systems but democratic processes are so influenced by the power of other institutions (the military, state sector, unions, role of other political parties, free press etc) that the "shape" of the local democracy can look quite differently.