Asian Americans in government and politics

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Asian Americans have a high level of political incorporation in terms of their actual voting population.[1] However, as a result of this group's historically low voting rates, overall political incorporation of the general population is relatively low. Although the population of this group has increased in size by 600% in 30 years due to immigration, heavy naturalization and voter outreach efforts have provided this primarily foreign-born community with less than 1% of voters.[2] The low political incorporation of Asian Americans has posed a concern especially when the fact that the group is the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. is taken into account.[3][4]


In some areas where Asian Americans have large populations, Asian Americans have elected Asian American candidates at the city and local level; examples of this include Vietnamese Americans in Orange County[2] and Chinese Americans in San Francisco.[5] However, this is not always the case.[6]

State government[edit]

George Ariyoshi, who served as the Governor of Hawaii from 1974 to 1986, was the first American of Asian descent to be elected governor of a state of the United States.[7] He continues to hold the record as the longest-serving state governor in Hawaii.

David Ige, current governor of Hawaii since December 1, 2014, is of Japanese-American descent, like Ariyoshi, and is additionally the first person of Okinawan descent to hold office in the U.S.[8]

Benjamin Jerome "Ben" Cayetano served as the fifth Governor of the State of Hawaiʻi from 1994 to 2002. He is the first Filipino American to serve as a state governor in the United States.[9]

In 1996 Gary Locke was elected governor of the state of Washington, becoming the first Chinese American to be elected governor in United States history and the first Asian American governor on the mainland. Locke served as governor from 1997-2005.[10]

Bobby Jindal served in various executive positions in Louisiana and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services before being elected to the Congress in 2004, and finally winning the Louisiana gubernatorial elections in 2007 (thereby becoming the first non-white governor of Louisiana since Reconstruction), the first elected Indian American governor in U.S. history,[11] as well as the second Asian American governor to serve in the continental United States.

Nikki Haley served as the 116th Governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017. Haley previously represented Lexington County in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 2005 to 2010.[12] She is the first Sikh American governor in the United States,[13] first female governor of South Carolina,[13] second elected Indian American governor in U.S. history,[14] as well as the third Asian American governor to serve in the continental United States. Nikki Haley's election wasn't the only first for Asian Americans to occur during the 2010 election cycle.

In California, Kamala Harris, who is half-Indian American,[15] became the first female, first African American, and first Asian American state attorney general in the United States.[16] Other Asian-Americans serving in statewide office in California include State Treasurer John Chiang and State Controller Betty Yee.

With his victory in 2011, David Oh became the first Asian-American elected to political office in the City of Philadelphia. He is currently serving his first term as City Councilman At-Large, Minority Whip.[17]

In New Jersey, Ravinder Bhalla, was the first Sikh, Indian-American elected to mayor of Hoboken in 2017.[18]


Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii was the President pro tempore of the United States Senate and the highest ranking Asian American in congressional history.


Benito Legarda y Tuason and Pablo Ocampo joined the House in 1907 as Resident Commissioners,[19] becoming the first Asian Americans to serve in the Congress, albeit as non-voting members,[20] and beginning the representation of the Philippines which ended in 1946.[20]

Dalip Singh Saund, an Indian American from Imperial and Riverside Counties, was the first South Asian American elected into Congress, and was one of only three Indian Americans to have been elected, serving from 1957 to 1963.[20] Hiram Fong, who served three decades in the Senate from 1959 to 1977, became the first Chinese American member of Congress,[20] and first Asian American senator.[21] Daniel Inouye (who served from 1959-2012) was the first Japanese American in the House and later the first in Senate. Spark Matsunaga was the second Japanese American to serve in the House (served 1971-77). Matsunaga and S. I. Hayakawa were the second and third Japanese Americans to serve in the Senate. Matsunaga served in the Senate between 1977 and 1990, while Hayakawa served in the Senate between 1977 and 1983.

Patsy Mink (served 1965-77 and again from 1990–2002) was the first Asian American woman and the first Japanese American woman to serve in Congress.[20] Norman Mineta (served 1975-95) was the fourth Japanese American to serve in the House. Bob Matsui (served 1979-2005) was the fifth Japanese American to serve in the House. Daniel Kahikina Akaka, appointed as U.S. senator of Hawaii in 1990, and then subsequently reelected for two terms in 1994 and 2000, is the first senator of native Hawaiian descent.[22] Bobby Scott, elected in 1993, is the first US born member of Congress to have Filipino ancestry.[23] He was joined by Jay Kim, the first Korean American to be elected to Congress,[24] as well as the first Korean elected to a national office outside of Korea;[25] since he left office there have been no Korean Americans in Congress. In 1998, David Wu was elected and became the only Chinese American of Taiwanese ancestry to serve be a member of Congress.[26] Wu resigned in 2011,[27] which was followed by a brief absence of Taiwanese Americans in Congress until the election of Grace Meng in 2012.

John Ensign, who is part Filipino American,[28] was elected to the senate in 2000 and resigned in 2011;[29] there have been no Filipino American senators since. In 2008, Joseph Cao of Louisiana became the first elected Vietnamese American in Congress;[20] since he left office in 2011 there have been no Vietnamese Americans in Congress. Also in 2008, Multiracial Filipino American Steve Austria was elected, becoming the first first-generation Filipino elected to Congress, he chose not to run for re-election in 2012.[30] In 2010, Inouye was sworn in as President Pro Tempore making him the highest-ranking Asian American politician in American history. That same year, Charles Djou became the first Thai American to be elected to Congress;[31][32] he left Congress in 2011,[33] and no Thai American served in the Congress until Tammy Duckworth was elected in 2012 as the first female Thai American, as well as the first Thailand-born representative. In 2011, Representative Hansen Clarke became the first Bangladeshi American to service in Congress;[34] he lost his seat after being defeated in the 2012 primary,[35] no Bangladeshi Americans have served in Congress since.


There are presently 15 Asian Pacific Americans in the House and 3 in the Senate, in the 115th United States Congress.[36][37][38] The following marks the total number of Asian Americans in the U.S. Congress since 1957: 33 representatives and 9 senators. Representatives include those from Japanese, Taiwanese, Filipino, Thai, Indian, Samoan, and Vietnamese American backgrounds.

Representatives Colleen Hanabusa, Doris Matsui, Mark Takano, and Senator Mazie Hirono are Japanese American.

Representative Judy Chu is Chinese American.

Representatives Grace Meng and Ted Lieu are Taiwanese Americans.

Representative Bobby Scott is Filipino American.

Senator Tammy Duckworth is Thai American.

Representatives Ami Bera, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, and Senator Kamala Harris are Indian American.[36]

Representative Tulsi Gabbard and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen are Samoan American.

Representative Stephanie Murphy is Vietnamese American.

Note that Scott and Harris both are multiracial; Scott is one-fourth Filipino and three-fourths African American, while Harris is one-half Indian and one-half African American.


Norman Mineta, first Asian American cabinet member

Norman Mineta became the first Asian American cabinet member,[39] serving as Secretary of Commerce in 2000, then was appointed Secretary of Transportation between 2001 and 2006. Elaine Chao was selected as a White House Fellow, and then served in a series of appointed posts prior to becoming the Secretary of Labor from 2001 to 2009; she became the first, and as of February 2011 only, Asian American woman to be in the U.S. Cabinet.[40] Neel Kashkari became the first Indian American to serve at the secretary level when President Bush appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to oversee the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) from October 2008 through May 2009.

Gary Locke became the first Chinese American Secretary of Commerce, and the third Asian American in the present cabinet. He joined Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, tying the Bush Administration for having the most Asian Americans in cabinet positions in United States history.[41] By June 2014, all Asian Americans on the Obama Administration cabinet had resigned; in the first time since 2000, there were no Asian Americans on the U.S. Cabinet.[42]

On January 25, 2017, Nikki Haley was sworn in as United States Ambassador to the United Nations following her nomination by Donald Trump. She became the first Indian American to serve in a Cabinet-level government position on a permanent basis. [43] Elaine Chao was also confirmed as Secretary of Transportation under the Trump administration.

Voting trends and party affiliation[edit]

From the 1940s to the 1990s most Asian Americans were anti-communist refugees who had fled mainland China, North Korea or Vietnam, and were strongly anti-Communist. Many had ties to conservative organizations.[44][45] In recent years, more liberal Asian-American groups such as newer Chinese and Indian immigrants have greatly changed the Asian-American political demographics, as well as a larger proportion of younger Asian Americans, many of whom have completed college degrees.[46]

During the 1990s and 2000s, Asian American voting behavior shifted from moderate support for the Republican Party to stronger support for the Democratic Party.[47] In the 1992 presidential election Republican George H. W. Bush received 55% of the Asian-American vote compared to 31% for Democrat Bill Clinton. Asian Americans voted Republican and were the only racial group more conservative than whites in the 1990s, according to surveys.[44] By the 2004 election, Democrat John Kerry won 56% of the Asian American vote, with Chinese and Indian Americans tending to support Kerry, and Vietnamese and Filipino Americans tending to support George Bush.[48] Japanese-Americans leaned towards Kerry, while Korean-Americans leaned towards Bush.[48] Democrat Barack Obama won 62% of the Asian American vote in the 2008 presidential election,[49] with the margin increasing during the 2012 presidential election, where Asian Americans voted to re-elect Obama by 73%.[50] In the 2014 midterm elections, based on exit polls, 50% of Asian Americans voted Republican, while 49% voted Democrat; this swing towards voting for Republicans was a shift from the strong Democratic vote in 2012, and had not reached 50% since 1996.[51] The 2016 National Asian American Survey, conducted before the 2016 presidential election, found that 55% of Asian American registered voters supported Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and only 14% supported Republican candidate Donald Trump.[52]

Despite their growing trend of voting for Democrats in national elections, Asian Americans have tended to identify as independents and have not developed strong ties to political parties as a group.[53] Due to the smaller size of the groups population, in comparison to the population as a whole, it has been difficult to get an adequate sampling to forecast voter outcomes for Asian Americans.[54] In 2008, polls indicated that 35% considered themselves non-partisan, 32% Democrats, 19% independents, and 14% Republicans.[55] The 2012 National Asian American Survey found that 51% considered themselves non-partisan, 33% Democrats, 14% Republicans, and 2% Other;[56][57] Hmong, Indian, and Korean Americans strongly identified as Democrats, and Filipino and Vietnamese Americans most strongly identified as Republicans.[57] In 2013, according to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Chinese Americans were the least likely Asian American ethnicity to have a party affiliation, with only one third belonging to a party.[58] The 2016 National Asian American Survey found that 41% of Asian Americans identified as non-partisan, 41% as Democrats (a modest increase from 2008 and 2012), and 16% as Republicans.[52]

Neither the Republican nor Democratic parties have financed significant efforts to the registration of Asian Americans, however much more attention has been focused on contributions from Asian Americans,[59] having once been referred to as potential "Republican Jews".[60] As recently as 2006, the outreach efforts of America's two major political parties have been unbalanced, with the Democratic Party devoting more resources in attracting Asian Americans.[61] In 2016, a majority of Asian-Americans possessed the same political views on racial profiling, education, social security, and immigration reform as the Democratic Party; the efforts to attract Asian-Americans has produced a proportionally significant growth in Democratic affiliation by Asian-Americans from 2012 to 2016 by 12 percent.[62] In 2016, Vietnamese and Filipinos were the least likely Asian Americans to support the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, with Vietnamese the most likely to back the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.[63] Political affiliation aside, Asian Americans have trended to become more politically active as a whole, with 2008 seeing an increase of voter participation by 4% to a 49% voting rate.[64] In 2017, it was reported by the Washington Post that Asian Americans born outside of the United States trended to be more conservative, and more likely to identify as Republicans, while those who were born in the United States, who were generally younger, were more likely to identify being a Democrat.[65]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

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