Why Don’t Hmong-Americans Vote Republican?

Perhaps no group in America has suffered more from Communism than the Hmong community.

The CIA first recruited the Hmong, impoverished tribes living in the hills of Southeast Asia, to help fight the Communists in Vietnam and Laos. When the Communists won in Vietnam and then Laos, the Hmong were persecuted and sent to camps for their anti-communist role. Eventually many found their way as refugees to the United States. They faced opposition from the Clinton administration, but strong support from Republicans enabled most to come to America as immigrants.

How do the Hmong vote?

It’s not always easy to pick out the voting patterns of smaller communities, like the Hmong. One has to take account of many confounding factors, ranging from participation rates to the voting patterns of other communities.

Nevertheless, it seems pretty clear that the Hmong vote Democratic.

There are several lines of evidence behind this statement. Firstly, Hmong elected officials – individuals such as former Minnesota State Representative Cy Thao and former Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua – belong to the Democratic Party. Secondly, Democratic candidates tend to attend official Hmong events. For instance, only Democratic candidate Al Franken attended this Hmong townhall meeting; Republican candidate Norm Coleman was invited but declined the invitation.

Finally, polls indicate that the Hmong vote Democratic. This poll found that 57% of Hmong identify as Democrats, while a mere 4% identify as Republicans. Done before the 2008 presidential election, it also showed Democrat Barack Obama gaining 65% of the Hmong vote, to Republican John McCain’s 4% support.

Those are some pretty stunning numbers. Even if the poll is badly flawed, or has a very leftward bias, it seems safe to say that the Hmong are a strong Democratic constituency.

There is a good reason for this; the Hmong community is quite poor. Indeed, 30.2% of Hmong-Americans receive public assistance income, more than triple the rate amongst Americans overall. Democratic economic policies tend to favor the poor more, and this is a strong draw for the Hmong.

But it’s still quite shocking that the draw of the Democratic Party’s economic policies is so strong as to produce a 57-4 registration advantage among the Hmong. One would think that the Republican Party would do better. After all, Republican lobbying is the reason why many Hmong are today in America, instead of refugee camps in Thailand.

Moreover, the Democratic Party is closer ideologically to the Communist Party which the Hmong fought for decades. This is why Cubans and Vietnamese-Americans, also refugees from Commmunist persecution, vote Republican. And the Hmong have certainly suffered from Communism; Democratic Hmong politicians Cy Thao and Mee Moua both had families who came from Thailand refugee camps.

The ultimate irony is that the very economic policies which put the Democratic Party closer on the ideological spectrum to the Communist Party are the reason why the Hmong vote Democratic.

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13 Responses to Why Don’t Hmong-Americans Vote Republican?

  1. Don't f**k says:

    I think no mather Democrat or Republicans got it….They are run the same agenda. The agenda it was write 30 years bofore…..the turn of president.

  2. YEE says:

    In general, if people are well-informed, and they are not easily swayed, and they see the truth, then they will vote with their conscience. Unfortunately, most people vote on a whim, based on what they hear of other people’s opinions, either on the radio or on the news. For example, someone may believe that Obama is a great president, in general. But, if asked what Obama has done specifically to make him a great president, the person cannot list any accomplishment in detail. Their answer is very generic and broad, which shows that they don’t have a clue about what Obama did.
    Also, another problem I have is that we give value to a person’s belief system, hoping that their value system will somehow make them a better president. We should, instead, ask each president-to-be to build a project plan, a roadmap, and scope out the tasks that he has planned for the 4 years he will be running the country. This is real business. Instead, we argue about abortion issues, etc. No wonder every new president screws up.
    When people are Democratic, they really believe they are on the right side and doing everyone else a favor. They want the government to help everyone. No one can tell them they are wrong. They believe everyone has a right to almost everything: healthcare, child care, cars, homes, TVs, cell phones, free lunch meals, etc. For example, if you smoke, and you get cancer, it’s the government’s responsibility to fix you on the government’s dime.
    When people are Republican, they believe they have a reason to protect the country, prevent it from bankruptcy, from big spending, and keep the Constitution. They also believe that people are responsible for themselves. For example, if you smoke, and you get cancer, it’s your damn fault. You better start fundraising for your medical bills. The government’s not big brother. Get your friends to bail you out.
    I find that both Republicans and Democrats are aware of issues that are important to them. Unfortunately, they place importance not on the same issues.

    • seng vang says:

      Looks like your own great example as someone who “Unfortunately…vote on a whim, based on what they hear of other people’s opinions, either on the radio or on the news.” How you ask?

      Just look at the black and white, absolutist, wild and twisted conclusions that you draw about what Democrats and Republicans are, or stand for!

      Clearly, that’s NOT a good example of someone who is “well-informed, and they are not easily swayed, and they see the truth, then they will vote with their conscience.”

      What do you suggest are the “right” placement of importance on the same issues? Please enlighten us.

  3. seng vang says:

    Dear Inoljt,

    I’m appalled by your analysis about why more Hmong Americans vote Democratic in your blog:

    Your assertion that it is some kind of “ultimate irony” that Hmong Americans who escaped Communism from Laos now overwhelmingly vote for an American political party which you equate with the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, whose origin is the Indochinese Communist Party founded by Ho Chi Minh…is nothing more than political cowboy grandstanding…and one of the gravest insults to the 260,000 Hmong Americans in this country.

    It’s a fact that both Hmong American Democrats and Republicans and their respective families suffered equally at the hands of the Pathet Lao, backed by North Vietnam. While in the U.S., some (not all, or even most) of the Hmong Secret War veterans lead by Hmong war hero General Vang Pao immediately found their cause to return to a free and democratic Laos, among others, guess who? The war mongering and nation-building Republicans of the 1980s, 90s and even today.

    All the while, the vast majority of Hmong were becoming Americans and rebuilding their lives, instead of collecting funds and openly employ “homeland politics” in our community to go and “retake” Laos.

    Hmong American politics, at least in Hmong Republican circles has less to do with fiscal policies or business or tax or other mainstream platforms. Most of the politics is around keeping the pipe dreams of an entire generation alive.

    You want real irony? Maybe you missed the whole thing in 2007 called “Operation Tarnished Eagle” where Hmong Republican General Vang Pao was arrested, jailed, and prosecuted, by his own Republican allies in Washington (who he personally campaigned for and gave tens of thousands of campaign contributions to (see public finance disclosures,) for attempting to purchase arms to overthrow a foreign government (Laos), which the U.S. is at peace with?

    Here you have these All American, flag waving Republicans in Washington, introducing and employing the Patriot Act and their War on Terror policy to arrest, who have no qualms about arresting, jailing and prosecuting their staunchest anti-Commie ally, General Vang Pao! If Republicans have done a lot for the Hmong, as some commenters here have suggested, they have indeed publicly misled them into believing the U.S. will somehow help them change the regime in Laos, which is actually false. Every U.S. administration has vowed to be at peace and a partner with Laos, whether Hmong Americans like it or not.

    And these Hmong Republicans, though few, will keep voting Republicans, even after Obama came into office and in 2009, FREED General Vang Pao and dropped all the charges against his ragtag group. All the while, the Republicans who were responsible for arresting and jailing him, sat on their hands and kept silent, until this day. In fact, they stayed far as away as possible from the Hmong community DURING the entire community rallies for General Vang Pao. Where was the mighty Hmong savior, Senator Norm Coleman? It was actually Democratic Congressman Jim Costa who came to the aid of the Hmong community.

    Sadly, the general died last year, from pneumonia, but many believe it’s from being lied to and abandoned by American officials and government for 4 decades, mostly Republicans. Try Google, it helps.

    So, it’s not political rocket science, or “shocking” or some “ultimate irony” at all then that the result is that you have on the one hand, a sensible, practical, progressive Hmong American community who are more focused on their families, their children, their jobs, than get suckered into feeding the pipe dreams of a free and democratic Laos, something many clueless or intentionally twisted mainstream Republicans wants to pepetuate, even while knowing it’s all but pipe dreams. And on the other, you have a small but vocal group of pipe dreamer Republicans.

    Here’s another fact: the official U.S. government’s relationship with Laos, over the last several decades, is rather mundane, uneventful, and even as cordial partners, very much unlike Cuba or North Korea…which does nothing to help Hmong Republicans who want to return to a democratic and free Laos.

    Maybe you’re really just ignorant of the ethnic and mainstream party politics in our community. Or, perhaps you actually know what you’re talking about, but chooses to mislead your online readers and followers about some sound bite “shocking” political discourse in our community. Which is it?

    I’ve been around Hmong American Democratic politics in Minnesota and around the country for a long time, and your blog reeks of misinformation and lacks any meaningful substance. If anything, it serves as another reminder of how much disrespectful and open generalizations and bias the media and in this case, political pundits, have for our collective community as a growing and well informed electorate.

  4. klo162 says:

    This is my opinion: Most Hmong do mostly vote Democrat. But it is true that General Vang Pao and his top followers are Republicans. And I think I know why: Because of the clandestine war in Laos where most of us came from. General Vang Pao and his top followers were fighting a government that wanted to control the whole country – Communism. Republicans believe in “small government” as Democrats believe in “big government.” So, thinking about all this, it didn’t surprise me that General Vang Pao was a Republican. Did you look at the age of Hmong people who vote Democrat? I bet you most of them are in the 18-mid 40’s range that vote Democrat as the older a Hmong person is, they vote Republican.

    • inoljt says:

      That’s a very interesting concept – that the older you go, the more Republican Hmong voters get.

      Unfortunately, I can’t really think of a way to prove it. The survey I linked to doesn’t seem to provide results by age. And even if it did, the sample size might be too small. You’re essentially trying to find a subset of a pretty small population which few people poll in the first place.

      I’d be glad to see any polls or other interesting links out there in support or opposition of your theory.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I didn’t mean to be anonymous. My name is Matthew. I’m from La Crosse, WI and long involved in these issues.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Wow that was not a very good article. You are assuming that Hmong people or anyone would want to vote republican. Most people of color vote democrat or on the progressive end of the political spectrum because they understand the need for social and economic justice. Normally conservatives have been against social justice issues, human rights and helping society. By alleging that democrats are nearer to communists is the same as alleging that republicans are therefore, by the same logic nearer to fascists. Which I think is pretty accurate, but even a cursory look at democrat policies would have helped you to notice that they are a solidly middle of the road party compared to any other political system in the world. And you have your Hmong history wrong. Just wrong. The Hmong are a very communal and communist value based people. Hmong values teach sharing, humility, spreading the wealth around, helping each other out, taking care of each other and the environment. All things republicans are traditionally opposed to. Hmong people fought because they had to. It was the US that got them into the war. The US that left them there. And the US that wouldn’t bring them here. It was from urging by the UN that finally the US agreed to ALLOW Hmong people to come here as Lao refugees. The US did not bring them here. OH and Kai…You are way off! Most Hmong in Minnesota do vote democrat and in Wisconsin. They realize that we all drink from wells that we have not dug and are unwilling to hurt people who are in need. That is a Hmong value. If you are a republican you should try having some compassion instead and work for social justice not just the rich.

    • inoljt says:

      A very interesting and thoughtful post; thanks for the reply.

      Some thoughts: most minorities do vote Democratic. But the Vietnamese, to give one example, don’t. I found it very fascinating that the Vietnamese vote Republican while the Hmong vote Democratic. Both groups would seem to have the same incentive to vote Republican, but only one group actually does. Perhaps because the Hmong and Vietnamese fought each other (albeit Vietnamese on the opposite side of most Vietnamese in the United States).

      I believe that the Republican Party is closer to fascism than the Democratic Party, much as the Democratic Party is closer to communism than the Republican Party. Which isn’t to insult either party; simply any Party A which is to the right end of the ideological spectrum compared to Party B is closer to fascism than Party B, while Party B is closer to communism than Party A.

      Finally, I don’t think that there is much anti-Americanism among the Hmong community.

  7. kai says:

    Here is an example. A question for anyone who may be reading this. Who do you think went to Washington DC and played a crucial role in clearing up the mess when Hmong people in the jungles of Laos were labeled as terrorist and why did he do it?
    Here is a clue. His last name is Coleman and he is from Minnesota. I bet you already know the answer to the second part of the question.

    • inoljt says:

      Do you have any other polls that show Hmong voting strongly Republican? Or any examples of Hmong leaders campaigning for Republicans? I was very careful about making sure that the Hmong actually do vote Democratic, and in my research I didn’t see anything like that.

      I do think that it’s strange that the Hmong vote so Democratic, if they in fact do. The Republican Party has done a lot for the Hmong, as you say.

  8. kai says:

    On a side note, when GVP was still alive, all his supporters vote Republican and they still do except when Hmong candidates are introduce on a smaller scale such as Cy Thao or Mee Moua. The campaigns are still going strong. I see that the poll incorporated 124 voters only and I highly doubt that serious, political Hmong voters were included. It would seem that democratic candidates would assist the Hmong communities more, but it’s exactly the opposite. Republican candidates are the ones that take the most initiative to address and resolve Hmong issues on a state level and national level. Take a look at what Republicans have done for Hmong in Minnesota vs what Democrats have done. Besides Hmong candidates, democrats have done nothing. We have helped put many Republicans in office. Sure, Hmong has a small population compare to the other ethnic groups, but it’s a deciding factor when the votes are close and the votes are almost always close. In the last election alone, the Hmong community assisted in putting 4 Republicans in office in Minnesota. How do I know? My family were the main Hmong campaigners for the Republican party. There were 5 of them, and only one of our candidate did not win.

  9. kai says:

    I think your poll may be off. Minnesota has one of the most populated Hmong communities and most vote Republicans here on the most important elections. There is only one exception and that is during the Obama/McCain election and you can figure out why. It’s more like 80% vote Republican and 20% vote Democrat. Hmong leaders even campaign for Republicans here.

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