China Focus Group – Overseas Chinese Share Their Thoughts on the US Presidential Election

This article is part 1 of a series on Chinese perspectives towards the US 2016 Presidential Election. Part Two, which focuses on which US presidential candidate China would support, can be found here.

On the eve of Super Tuesday, people around the world are watching the US election closely. China Focus conducted a focus group to see what Chinese students on campus at UC San Diego thought about the US election.

Just before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus on February 1st, China Focus conducted a focus group of Chinese international students, studying at the School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) at UCSD. Editor Peter Larson and special contributor Luke Sanford asked a group of Chinese students for their thoughts on the US Presidential election.

A word about methodology – While GPS at UCSD is known for being a world-class quantitative research institution, our focus group was decidedly unscientific. We gathered 10 volunteers from Professor Barry Naughton’s class, the Social and Economic Development of China. The students are all second-year Master’s candidates studying International Affairs with a regional focus on China. Needless to say, our sample is far from random and not very representative of Chinese people generally. However, it was a fun glimpse into the American political process, seen through the eyes of Chinese international students.

We began with a quick survey of who had been following the election so far. Only 2 out of 10 said they were following closely, but 8 out 10 said they had friends or family in China who were watching the US election with interest.

Unsurprisingly, most of our time was spent talking about the GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump. We began by showing pictures of the candidates to the group. 2 out of 10 recognized Senator Bernie Sanders, 9 out of 10 know Trump, and everybody knew who Hillary Clinton was. Only 1 recognized poor Jeb Bush, and nobody had ever seen Senators Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio before. Here’s what they had to say.

Tell me about Donald Trump.

“Chinese people do not take him seriously.”

“This is the only one I know. His name is Trump. He was a Democrat but now he’s a Republican, or maybe it’s the other way around. The first time I heard about him, my boss told me that Trump believes that most of the unskilled Americans, they don’t have a job because of Mexican immigrants. A stupid idea.”

“don’t like this guy at all. Most of his ideas are inconsiderate.”

“He says bad words about China, just like Mexico, like we steal American people’s jobs. If you want to be the President of America, international relations are also very important.”

“His daughter is in fashion right?”

“One thing I know about Trump is that he always likes to say something extremely extreme. He said something really bad about females.”

“He is a really dangerous candidate because he raised positions that nobody ever has. There is a certain population that will always support him, no matter what kind of crazy thing he says.”

“know him from watching his TV show, the Apprentice. Lots of celebrities want to be his assistant because he’s a really rich man, but I never thought he wanted to be President. He has his own empire. He has his real estate and other things so he doesn’t care about what the public thinks about him. He can say whatever he wants. I don’t know why he wants to be the President, maybe he just wants more people to pay attention to him, maybe it’s just for fun.”

“On Chinese social media, Trump’s image is just about entertainment.”

“Chinese people do not take him seriously.”

What do you know about Bernie Sanders?

“I think he is an honest guy.”

“Some elite students are really fascinated by him. He was on the Ellen show once.”

“like him most. I think he is an honest guy. I watched some Democratic debates, and I think he is the best in the democratic party.”

“He cares about the unskilled labor in the United States. He cares about the minimum wage“ he wants to increase it.”

What about Hillary Clinton?

“She’s not very in favor of China in general. Some Chinese investors are afraid that Hillary’s going to be elected as the President and they hesitate to invest in the States.”

“know she represents the elite in the United States. She is from a very wealthy family. She already served with Obama, but if she’s elected she’ll be the first female President in history.”

“One thing I know is that when she was Secretary of State, she was regarded as one of the most hardworking Secretaries of State.”

“She’s not very in favor of China in general. Some Chinese investors are afraid that Hillary’s going to be elected as the President and they hesitate to invest in the States.”

“heard she’s a good person, but in this election she uses the fact that she’s a woman a little too much.”

What do you know about Jeb Bush?

“He’s the brother of the previous President. It’s a really big family that has taken control of the entire United States.”

Next we moved on to favorable / unfavorables. We asked who liked each of the three most well-known candidates (Trump, Clinton, and Sanders) and why. Naturally, we began with the Donald.

1 out of 10 expressed support for Trump.

“like him because of his extremeness. I like that way of expressing his opinion. If he gets elected, he can actually do something. He has his opinion – he’s not a yes-man who tries to gather consensus but the outcome is nothing. He has his point of view, and maybe that can lead to getting things done.”

Hillary had the most support with 3 out of 10.

“The most important fact is that she’s female.”

“She has good character. The most important thing for me is that she’s a woman. As the first female President, no matter what she does, she will definitely raise the status of women.”

“The most important fact is that she’s female.”

Bernie had 2 supporters out of 10. Half of the group had no favorite candidate.

“Bernie is the most liberal one. He’s a family guy as well, he has several grandchildren. It gives me a good impression of him.”

“think he’s a guy who can get things done. He can do some really helpful things for the United States, unlike the others who just say rhetoric.”

Who do you think would be the best for US-China relations?

“No matter if it’s Trump or Hillary, they will both not do good for the relationship between the two countries. It will just be even worse. That’s my opinion.”

“No matter if it’s Trump or Hillary, they will both not do good for the relationship between the two countries. It will just be even worse. That’s my opinion.”

On Anti-China rhetoric

“This is just what they say during the election when they are trying to get votes. Once they become President they will be more concerned about the whole country’s interests. They will reconsider their position toward China. For example, after Trump becomes President, he will want to start something new and be friends with China.

Which party would be better for China?

2 out 10 raised their hands for the Republican Party, 5 out of 10 said the Democratic Party, and one said it doesn’t matter.

Why Republicans?

“The biggest worry for Americans about China is the low-wage labor. The Democratic party is more intent to protect labor’s benefits, so the wages for local labor is higher. So they don’t want to trade with China, they want to put some limitations on trade. But the Republicans more represent the interests of capital. They want more investment, more profit, they don’t care very much about labor. So I think they want to cooperate with China.”

“Republicans are more pro-trade, which will get the US more involved in the global economy and less protection domestically.”

Why Democrats?

“think they’re more liberal. Republicans are more concerned with the internal affairs of the United States.”

“ They push China in WTO lawsuits. From this perspective the Democratic party would be better for healthier US-China relations, instead of China just contributing low-price labor and products. Maybe it’s better for China’s long-term development.

One thing they all agreed on:

“Chinese don’t care who is the President as long as they keep the (overseas student) policy.”

“Chinese don’t care who is the President as long as they keep the (overseas student) policy.”


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Peter Larson

is the Editor in Chief of the China Focus Blog. He is a second year student at GPS, studying International Economics with a regional focus on China. Peter's research interests include China's politics, economy, foreign policy and US-China relations.

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