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Helplessness Trust Mark Asian Attitudes Survey

Helplessness – and trust – mark Asian political attitudes survey

A pioneering survey of Asian political and social attitudes in New Zealand has revealed strong feelings of “political helplessness”.

Three quarters of the respondents in the 915 person survey said they felt Asian interests were not well represented in New Zealand. Two thirds thought it was harder for Asians than other groups to participate in New Zealand politics and nearly 90 percent felt they could have very little or no influence on government policies.

The nationwide survey was part of a PhD thesis carried out by Auckland University political science student Shee-Jeong Park, who came to New Zealand from Korea in 1991.

Ms Park says despite their feelings of political helplessness, Asian New Zealanders surveyed seemed well satisfied with the standard of political systems and structures here. More than 90 percent said they were satisfied with the way democracy worked, and the level of trust in government officials was only a little lower. The level of trust in politicians and officials in their home countries was much lower.

Despite the high levels of trust in the New Zealand system, four out of five respondents said they had been discriminated against here. Around 10 percent said the culprits were the Police or other government authorities.

Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said they were interested in New Zealand politics, though almost all felt a need for more Asian representation.

Voter turnout among Asian New Zealanders surveyed (nearly 76 percent) was much the same as among the population as a whole (around 77 percent). The Asian turnout figure was higher than in other western countries such as the US, Ms Park said.

“There could be several reasons for this – an electoral system in New Zealand that encourages participation, effective targeting of Asian voters by political parties, the relatively high socio-economic status of Asian New Zealanders, or the positive attitudes of Asian New Zealanders towards the political process here.”

The two most important political issues identified by respondents were the economy and law and order.

Political party support among Asian New Zealanders was somewhat higher for Labour (47 percent) than for National (40 percent). Act was the most popular of the smaller parties (6 percent).

Of the 915 respondents, almost all were foreign born: 389 were from Korea, 234 from the People’s Republic of China, 103 from Hong Kong, 65 from Taiwan, 27 from Malaysia and 14 from other countries. Only 5 percent had lived in New Zealand for more than 15 years and fewer than 40 percent felt they spoke English fluently. Three quarters had a tertiary level education and almost two thirds owned a property in New Zealand or overseas.

Candidates for the survey were selected randomly from Parliamentary electoral data. The survey was carried out late last year, and was funded by the University of Auckland and the Asia 2000 Foundation.


Background summary

Asian New Zealanders, who now comprise 6.6% of the total New Zealand population, are becoming increasingly important players in New Zealand politics. Yet, not many studies have been conducted to assess the political behaviours and preferences of Asian New Zealanders. In an effort to understand what drives Asian New Zealanders, Shee-Jeong Park, a PhD student at the University of Auckland, has conducted a first nationwide survey on political participation of Asian New Zealanders as a part of her PhD thesis. The survey was funded by the University of Auckland’s Department of Political Studies, the International Education and Diversity Committee of the University of Auckland, and the Asia 2000 Foundation.

The survey examined the political and social attitudes and activities of 915 Korean and Chinese New Zealanders from Korea, People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Malaysia. Respondents were selected randomly from the Parliamentary Electoral Data, and were therefore restricted to those who are New Zealand citizens or permanent residences who have registered to vote. Respondents were sent questionnaires in English with Korean or Chinese translations. The survey was conducted from 11 August – 19 September 2003.

Shee-Jeong Park is a recent Asian immigrant who came to New Zealand from Korea in 1991. She is a former lawyer and is currently working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The survey was conducted in her personal capacity as a PhD student at the University of Auckland. Her supervisors are Dr Raymond Miller and Professor Jack Vowles of the University of Auckland.

Summary of key findings

Political issues

-Asian New Zealanders showed a relatively high level of voting turnout. More than three quarters of Asian New Zealanders turned out to vote in the 2002 election. The turnout for Asian New Zealanders is likely to increase in the future, as common reasons for non-voting were lack of knowledge of New Zealand politics, language difficulties, and not being eligible to vote.

-The turnout for Asian New Zealanders (75.6%) was almost as high as the turnout for the general New Zealand population (77%), and higher than that of the Maori population (54%), as recorded in the New Zealand Election Study (NZES) 2002. The result is surprising, given that the turnout for Asian immigrants in other Western countries (such as the US) is usually lower than the general population. Possible reasons for Asian New Zealander’s high turnout includes (1) an electoral system that encourages participation (MMP/PR system, permanent residents with right to vote, compulsory enrolment); (2) mobilization efforts by political parties (Asian candidates, campaigns targeting Asian voters); (3) high socio-economic status of Asian New Zealanders (high income and educational qualification); and (4) positive attitudes of Asian New Zealanders (high level of satisfaction and trust in New Zealand politics, appreciation of the need to participate in politics). -Participation rate in other political activities was, however, quite low – the most common form of political activity was signing petitions (13.3%), followed by working in the community to solve a problem (8.6%), and assisting in a political campaign (5.8%).

- Party identification rate for Asian New Zealanders, at 44%, was similar to that of the general New Zealand population, 46.1% of whom identified themselves with a political party. There was no strong preference for a particular party among those who showed general support for a political party, with 46.8% supporting Labour and 40.1% National. Act was the most popular small party among Asian New Zealanders (6.0%), followed by United Future (2.5%).

-In the 2002 election, more Asian New Zealanders voted for Labour for a party vote (51.4% compared to 34.9% for National) but National was a more popular choice for an electorate vote (42.8% compared to 38.4% for Labour). Again, Act (6.9% and 7.2%) and United Future (3.6% and 4.4%) gained most of the votes as small parties from Asian New Zealanders.

-Asian New Zealanders showed a high level of interests in New Zealand politics. Nearly 90% of the respondents indicated that they were (very, fairly or somewhat) interested in New Zealand politics. Nearly 95% of the respondents believed that there is a need for Asian New Zealanders to participate in New Zealand politics.

-For Asian New Zealanders, TV news and local ethnic newspapers were the two most common sources of political information.

-Feelings of “political helplessness” were prevalent among Asian New Zealanders. Three quarters of the respondents felt that Asian interests are not well represented in New Zealand. Two thirds of the respondents also believed that it is harder for Asians to participate in New Zealand politics, and nearly 90% of the respondents indicated that they have very little or no influence on government policies in New Zealand.

-Despite the feelings of political helplessness, a high level of political satisfaction and trust was recorded. More than 90% of the respondents showed satisfaction with the way democracy works in New Zealand, whereas fewer than 50% showed satisfaction with their home country’s democracy. Nearly 90% of the respondents showed trust in New Zealand government officials, and 70% indicated that they trust New Zealand officials more than officials in their home countries.

-Economy and Law & Order were the two most important issues for Asian New Zealanders, followed by unemployment and health.

-Most Asian New Zealanders showed support for the provision of job training and bilingual services for Asian New Zealanders by the government, but there was a considerably lower level of support for a race-based preferential (quota) system for Asian New Zealanders.

-Nearly two-thirds of the respondents believed that Asian MPs would be better in representing Asian interests than Pakeha or Maori MPs, and 60% of the respondents believed that there should be more Asian MPs in New Zealand (with additional 35% supporting more Asian MPs depending on the candidates). However, less than 40% of the respondents showed support for a separate ethnic minority party (eg. Asian party).

Social issues

-Nearly 85% of the respondents indicated that they have some level of interaction with Pakeha New Zealanders, although the interaction rate was considerably lower for Maori (37%) and Pacific Islanders (34%). Contrary to the popular belief that Asian New Zealanders cluster among themselves, only 15% of the respondents belonged to an ethnic community group, and only 30% to an ethnic religious group.

-More than 85% of the respondents planned to live in New Zealand in the next 10 years. But they remained in close contact with their home countries, with about 85% of the respondents contacting friends and family back home and following news at home at least once a month, if not more frequently.

-Nearly half of the respondents regarded language difficulties as the biggest problem facing Asian New Zealanders, followed by lack of job opportunities and racial discrimination. Almost three quarters of the respondents indicated that they use their native language at home. Less than 40% of the respondents indicated that they speak English fluently.

-More than three quarters of the respondents agreed with a statement that what happens generally to other Asians in New Zealand would also happen to them, indicating that a pan-ethnic Asian identity may be developing. However, four in five respondents chose to identify themselves in ethnic terms (eg. Chinese or Chinese New Zealander) rather than in pan-ethnic terms (eg. Asian or Asian New Zealander).

-Four out of five respondents indicated that they have experienced discrimination in New Zealand. The most common source of discrimination was passer-by in public. More disturbingly, almost 10% of those who experienced discrimination in New Zealand identified New Zealand Police or other government authority as the source of discrimination. Of those who experienced discrimination, only 10% indicated that they have reported (or taken actions against) the incident. More than half of those who have not reported discrimination said that they did not report the incident because they felt that reporting would not make any difference.

-Less than 20% of the respondents felt that the New Zealand media fairly portrays their home countries “most of the time”. Nearly 25% indicated that the media “never” portrays their home countries fairly, with 40% choosing “sometimes”.

A profile of respondents

-Of the 915 respondents, 389 were from Korea, 234 from People’s Republic of China, 103 from Hong Kong, 65 from Taiwan, 27 from Malaysia, and 14 from other countries.

-Almost all (97%) of the respondents were foreign-born. Only 5% of the respondents have lived in New Zealand for more than 15 years.

-More women (54.4%) than men (45.6%) responded to the survey. People over 40 (62%) participated more in the survey than people under 40 (38%).

-Respondents in general had a high socio-economic status. More than 75% had a tertiary level education, and almost two thirds owned a property either in New Zealand or overseas.

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