Asian Politics is Emerging in the U.S.

On November 2, 2021, Michelle Wu, a 36-year-old Chinese-American candidate, was elected mayor of Boston, becoming the first Asian-American woman mayor in the city’s 200-year history and breaking the long-standing monopoly of white men in the city’s mayoral election. Wu’s successful election reflects the rising trend of Asian politics in American society today.

In recent years, Asian American political participation has increased dramatically, and the number of Asian American elected officials has gradually increased. According to the Asian American Council, the number of Asians running for Congress has increased from eight in 2008 to 40 in 2016 and more than 80 in 2020. 17 Asian congressmen, including three of Chinese descent, will be sworn in to the new Congress in January 2021. There are also currently 152 Asian-American state legislators across the U.S., a 15 percent increase from 2018.

What’s more, Asian voter turnout has surged in recent years, rising from about 49 percent in the 2016 general election to 59.7 percent in 2020, casting about 7 million votes, according to the federal Census Bureau. Research by Catalist, a U.S. voter research firm, shows that while turnout increased for all ethnic groups in the 2020 election, Asians grew at a significantly higher rate than other ethnic groups, and higher than any ethnic group’s general election turnout growth in the last 30 years. This suggests that the Asian American community is seeking to reverse its traditional image of being “politically apathetic” and is seeking to expand its political influence.

Asians have become the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. Since 2000, the Asian American population has grown by more than 70 percent, and the 2020 census counted about 20 million people, accounting for about 6 percent of the country’s population. Among them, Chinese are the largest Asian group, accounting for 23% of the total Asian population. The number of Asian voters has grown 139 percent over the past 20 years, with more than 11 million eligible to vote in 2020, accounting for nearly 5 percent of the total U.S. electorate. The Pew Research Center predicts that at this rate of growth, Asians will surpass Latinos as the largest immigrant group in the U.S. by 2055, and will account for 36 percent of the immigrant population by then.

The Asian population is also more widely distributed in the U.S., no longer limited to New York, San Francisco and other major cities on the East and West coasts where the first generation of Asian immigrants are concentrated. In recent years, there has been significant growth in the Asian population in a number of states, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, North Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada. Compared to first generation immigrants, second and third generation Asian immigrants are generally more educated and economically advanced, more linguistically and culturally adaptable, and more aware and interested in political participation.

Wu’s personal experience epitomizes this generational difference. During her early years, her parents taught her to “keep a low profile, study hard, and find a stable, well-paying job to support her family” and to avoid talking about politics on various occasions. To a large extent, this represents the typical mentality of the older generation of Asian immigrants, and it is also the reason why Wu proposed the need to “speak out and break the cycle of invisible Asians”.

Behind the increase in Asian political participation is the continued push of many Asian groups. “Asian Public Affairs Coalition, Asian Vote, Asian Victory Coalition, Asian Political Coalition “Asian Americans United for Self-Empowerment” and other representative non-government groups have long been concerned about Asian political participation, working on voter registration and vote mobilization, as well as promoting Asian participation in public office by building a pipeline to public officials. As the Asian population continues to grow, the influence of Asians as voters and political election patrons is becoming increasingly apparent, which means that the Asian community is increasingly connected to the executive and legislative branches, thus prompting more Asian faces to enter politics and public office as representatives or important contacts who are linguistically literate and understand the needs of the Asian community.

The Asian American community is more significantly diverse and complex than other minority groups. Asian communities from different Asian countries and educational backgrounds often differ greatly in terms of socioeconomic status, and with different home languages and historical political and cultural barriers, it has long been difficult to form a synergy in political and social life. However, recent election results show that the overall partisan tendency of Asian voters has gradually changed, and a certain “group vote” effect has begun to emerge.

In the 21st century, Asians increasingly prefer the Democratic Party, which is tolerant on issues such as racial equality and immigration, and their support for the Democratic Party has increased from 36% in the 1992 election, 43% in the 1996 election, 55% in the 2000 election, and 56% in the 2004 election to 62% in 2008 and 73% in 2012. Asian voters voted for Hillary Clinton, with only 27% choosing Trump. 70% of Asian voters supported Biden in the 2020 election, and overall turnout was at a record high.

Of concern is that the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant xenophobic policies, the surge of anti-Asian hate crimes in the context of the new crown epidemic, and the racist rhetoric of Trump and the Republican right wing politicizing and stigmatizing the epidemic have all served as catalysts to galvanize the Asian vote in the 2020 election. A joint survey recently released by Morning Consult and the news website Politico found that the chaos of the 2020 election has instead led to a unified understanding among most Asian voters that violence, racism and white supremacy are the main threats to the Asian community. The survey found that the chaos of the 2020 election has instead led to a unified understanding among most Asian voters that violence, racism and white supremacy are major threats to the Asian community. In response, Yunping Liu, a California Chinese congressman and Democrat, said the rise in Asian political participation is partly a response to the Trump administration’s xenophobic policies, and that they hope to reverse the current policy direction by voting.

According to the Asian American Association for the Advancement of Justice, about one-third of the Asian population currently lives in the top 10 key swing states in the United States. In these hotly contested “battleground states” in the election, the Asian vote is beginning to have a significant impact on the outcome of the election. According to election data analytics firm TargetSmart, Asian turnout in all key states increased significantly in the 2020 election compared to 2016, with nearly 360,000 more votes cast in total. In Georgia, for example, Asian turnout increased by 62,000 votes compared to 2016, while Biden narrowly won the state by just under 12,000 votes, becoming the first Democratic candidate to win the state since 1992. high support among Asian, African-American, Hispanic and other minority voters in the 2020 election helped Democrats achieve close victories in these key states. According to an analysis by the progressive group Ways to Win, minority votes made up 41.4 percent of Biden’s vote total and 8.4 percent of Trump’s vote. Against the background of increasing social division and political polarization in the U.S., the election competition between the two parties has become increasingly fierce and intense, especially in the hotly contested swing states, where the minority vote has played a key role, and thus the partisan political tendencies of Asian voters have become increasingly concerned and their political energy has gradually emerged.

Although the political participation of Asians has increased significantly in recent years, their political representation is still far from adequate. Asians currently account for 6% of the total U.S. population, and only 0.9% of elected officials at the federal, state and local levels of government are Asian, making their political representation the lowest among all ethnic groups. Since the first Asian U.S. Senator appeared in 1959, the number of Asian members of Congress has increased to 17 in the current 117 Congresses, but among the 535 members of Congress, there are 59 African-American members and 46 Hispanic members, while African-Americans and Hispanics currently account for 12.4% and 18.7% of the U.S. population, respectively. There is still a significant gap between the representation of Asians in Congress and their national population of 6%.

Asians are even more underrepresented among state and local elected officials. Among all U.S. governors, there are only six Asian governors, including only one of Chinese descent, while there are 30 African-American and 15 Hispanic governors who are also minorities. According to the “Asian American Congressional Institute”, there are only 160 Asian legislators among the 7,000 state legislators in the United States, 51 of whom are concentrated in the Hawaii State Legislature. In fact, Hawaii is currently the only state in the nation where the representation of Asian legislators is proportional to its population. Even in New York and California, which have relatively large Asian populations, Asians are still underrepresented in politics, while in New Jersey and Nevada, which have the fourth and fifth largest Asian populations respectively, there are only two and one Asian legislators, respectively.

In the local justice system, only 0.24% of litigators and 0.07% of elected town justices of the peace are currently of Asian descent. Asian women have even fewer opportunities to hold public office in state and local government, the legislative branch, the federal government, and Congress, and Wu is one of only three Asian women mayors in the nation’s 100 largest cities. Of the 160 Asian state legislators, only about one-third are Asian women. The majority of the nation’s state districts have predominantly white populations, and therefore the state legislators who vote in them are generally white. In state legislative elections since 1996, less than 3% of majority-white districts have elected minority state legislators.

Asian voter turnout in recent presidential elections has remained lower than some other ethnic groups. In the 2012 election, Asian turnout was 47%, slightly higher than the 43% of Latinos, but significantly lower than the 62% of whites and 68% of African-Americans. in the 2016 election, Asian turnout was 49%, while whites, African-Americans, and Latinos were at 65%, 60%, and 45%, respectively. in the 2020 election, Asian turnout surged to 59.7%, higher than the 52% of Latinos, but still lower than 72% for whites and 66% for African-Americans.

It is undeniable that the Asian community’s anti-hate crime and anti-racism demands have strongly contributed to the continued momentum of Asian voter participation in politics. on May 20, 2021, the Biden administration signed the Anti-New Coronation Hate Crimes Act to combat the New Coronation epidemic of Asian hate crimes, which is seen by the Asian community as a milestone in the anti-Asian hate movement. However, the bill has limitations on how to define racist hate crimes, and substantial barriers remain for law enforcement officials to bring hate crime charges. In fact, while anti-discrimination groups and government agencies have stepped up efforts to combat Asian hate crimes since the March 2020 mass shooting in Atlanta that shocked the nation, the risk of violence to the Asian community has not abated. The civil rights organization Stop Hating Asians reported in November 2021 that as of September 30, 2021, it had received 5,771 reports of hate incidents against Asians, more than the total number of reported incidents in 2020, indicating that the trend of Islamophobia continues to grow.

History has shown that crises faced by communities at specific times often strengthen their own cohesion, stimulate their sense of political participation, and generate visible collective power and political effects. As a response to the numerous incidents of Asianophobia in American society, several Asian groups have been actively engaged in anti-racism protests to “stop hating Asians”, while at the same time promoting political mobilization within the Asian community to protect the rights and interests of the community through the development of political power. Faced with the current impact of racism and xenophobia in American society, the Asian community is obviously no longer willing to be silent and will continue to heat up in political participation.