The Palin Effect Stops at Koreatown
New America Media, News Report, Kenneth Kim Posted: Sep 17, 2008
Editor's Note: Mainstream Republican voters may be enthusiastic about vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, but KoreanAmerican voters remain unimpressed, writes NAM reporter Kenneth Kim.
LOS ANGELES – Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has generated tremendous excitement among voters across the country. But Korean-American voters remain unimpressed.
At restaurants in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, few pay attention to TV channels that were filling the airwaves with news about Palin. Reports about the candidate are buried in the back pages of Korean-language newspapers.
Unlike their mainstream counterparts, evangelical Korean-American voters – considered a large conservative voter block – have not gravitated toward the McCain-Palin ticket.
No polls have been conducted to measure the Palin effect on Korean American voters, whose political allegiances are similar to those of other Asian-American voters. But a scan of Korean news media reports and interviews with Korean-American voters in Los Angeles and Orange County indicate that most are lukewarm about the Palin candidacy.
“It isn’t fair to say Korean-American voters are uninterested in this historical presidential election,” says Sungchan ‘Steve’ Kim, editor-in-chief of Korea Daily, one of the largest Korean-language daily newspapers published in the United States. “But it’s not inaccurate to say that her candidacy hasn’t stirred up passion among them as the (Hillary) Clinton campaign did during the California primary.”
Observers say the Korean-American community’s indifference toward Palin can largely be attributed to the Republican Party’s failure to reach out to the community. The GOP did not approach the community leadership for support. Unlike the Democratic Party, which set up a field campaign office here, the GOP has been absent from Koreatown.
The perception that Palin hasn’t had opportunities to interact with diverse immigrant populations is another reason why she hasn’t stirred much interest among immigrant voters.
“No one denies she’s highly accomplished as a woman, a mother, a wife and a politician,” says Jason Song, a 47- year-old accountant from Fullerton, Calif. “But her entire life only revolved around in Alaska, one of the most homogeneous states in the United States.”
Palin’s family affairs, especially those involving her pregnant teenaged daughter, also seem in conflict with Korean voters’ value system.
“Of course, it’s a family matter. However, I can’t brush off the thought of how a person who couldn’t even bring (her) own family into order could bring order in the country,” said Bongsoo Kim, a 68-year-old grandfather who lives in the Koreatown area.
The McCain-Palin team may be fighting hard for undecided female voters, but their efforts may be in vain among Korean American women. Those who haven’t made up their minds say Palin isn’t someone they can trust to advance women’s rights. In fact, they see her as taking opposing positions on the issues that matter most to them. She is pro-life, doesn’t care about the environment and supports prolonging the Iraq war.
Mary Kim, 34, who lives in Stevenson Ranch, an affluent suburb of Los Angeles, says she has uneasy feelings about Democratic candidate Barack Obama and his running mate Joseph Biden. But after learning about Palin’s positions on abortion and the Iraq war, she knew she would be voting for the Democrats. “I would no longer consider voting for McCain,” explains Kim, who calls herself a church-going Christian.
Some women voters are offended by McCain’s assumption that Palin could win over the women who had hoped to put Clinton in the White House.
“As a woman, I was very disappointed and felt insulted,” says Sunny Chung, a 44-year-old real estate agent who voted for Clinton in the California primary. “Before anything else, you have to be qualified for the job. Her being a woman is the only reason she was picked. It’s a political trick. ”
Some Republican-leaning voters who felt threatened by the energy of Obama supporters show a new interest for the Republican team, but not a lot of enthusiasm.
“It’s good to see the Republican Party getting revived, but I don’t feel thrilled by McCain-Palin because they don’t offer anything I can identify with,” says Steve Kim, a 33-year-old business owner.
Korean American community leaders worry that their community’s attitude toward Palin could result in a low voter turnout in November, thereby further diminishing the community’s political clout.
Even as it is, Korean Americans are among the least civically engaged Asian immigrants, according to a study published by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California (APALC). Only 39 percent of Korean American registered voters in Los Angeles County voted in the 2006 general election, compared to 52 percent of all registered voters and 43 percent of all Asian American registered voters. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Korean-American voters live in Southern California.
“Korean American voters’ interest in the presidential election withered away (when) Senator Clinton, who secured overwhelming support from the ethnic community over Senator Barack Obama, dropped out of the race,” says Sungchan Kim of Korea Daily. “It may be a perfect chance for Governor Palin to demonstrate her ability to inspire people.”
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