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.


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 and Chinese Americans in San Francisco. However, it is not always the case. For example, Korean Americans in Koreatown, Los Angeles and Filipino Americans in Daly City have not elected city Asian American officials to represent them.[2]

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.[3] He continues to hold the record as the longest-serving state governor in Hawaii.

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.[4]

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.[5]

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,[6] as well as the second Asian American governor to serve in the continental United States.

Nikki Haley is the 116th and current Governor of South Carolina. Haley previously represented Lexington County in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 2005 to 2010.[7] She is the first Sikh American governor in the United States,[8] first female governor of South Carolina,[8] second elected Indian American governor in U.S. history,[9] 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,[10] became the first female, first African American, and first Asian American state attorney general in the United States.[11]


Senator 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,[12] becoming the first Asian Americans to serve in the Congress, albeit as non-voting members,[13] and beginning the representation of the Philippines which ended in 1946.[13]

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.[13] Hiram Fong, who served three decades in the Senate from 1959 to 1977, became the first Chinese American member of Congress,[13] and first Asian American senator.[14] 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.[13] 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. Bobby Scott, elected in 1993, is the first US born member of Congress to have Filipino ancestry.[15] He was joined by Jay Kim, the first Korean American to be elected to Congress,[16] as well as first Korean elected to a national office outside of Korea;[17] 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.[18] Wu resigned in 2011,[19] 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,[20] was elected to the senate in 2000 and resigned in 2011;[21] there have been no Filipino American senators since. In 2008, Joseph Cao of Louisiana became the first elected Vietnamese American in Congress;[13] 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.[22] 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;[23][24] he left Congress in 2011,[25] 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;[26] he lost his seat after being defeated in the 2012 primary,[27] no Bangladeshi Americans have served in Congress since.


There were 11 Asian Americans in the House and one in the Senate, in the 114th United States Congress.[28][29] Representatives Mike Honda, Doris Matsui, Mark Takano, Mark Takai and Senator Mazie Hirono are all Japanese Americans; Representative Judy Chu is Chinese American; Representative Grace Meng and Ted Lieu are Taiwanese Americans; Representatives Bobby Scott is a Multiracial Filipino American; Representative Tammy Duckworth is Thai American; and Representative Ami Bera is Indian American.[28]


Norm Mineta, first Asian American cabinet member

Norman Mineta became the first Asian American cabinet member,[30] 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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33]

Voting trends[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.[34][35] 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.[36]

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.[34] The Asian American vote has slowly shifted since then with Democrat John Kerry winning 56% of the Asian American vote in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election; Chinese and Indian Americans were more likely to support John Kerry; whereas Vietnamese and Filipino Americans supported George Bush.[37] The Japanese leaned towards Kerry, while the Koreans leaned towards Bush.[37] Democrat Barack Obama won 62% of the Asian American vote in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election,[38] with the margin increasing during the 2012 United States presidential elections, where Asian American voters voted to re-elect Democrat Barack Obama by 73%.[39]

Overall, Asian Americans as a whole tend to vote for Democrats, but this trend has been fairly recent. As recently as 2000 polling number had difficulty determining Asian American voter affiliation. With some polls indicating a tendency to vote Republican, while other polls indicated a trend to vote Democrat. Due to the smaller size of the groups population, in comparison to the population as a whole, it remains difficult to get an adequate sampling to forecast voter outcomes for Asian Americans.[40] In 2008, polls indicated that 35% considered themselves non-partisan, 32% Democrats, 19% independents, and 14% Republicans.[41] The 2012 National Asian American Survey, conducted by Professor Ramakrishnan of UC Riverside and Professor Lee of UC Berkeley, found that 51% considered themselves non-partisan, 33% Democrats, 14% Republicans, and 2% Other;[42][43] Hmong, Indian, and Korean Americans strongly identified as Democrats, and Filipino and Vietnamese Americans most strongly identified as Republicans.[43] 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.[44] 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 drastic change from the support given to the Obama re-election in 2012, and had not reached 50% since 1996.[45]

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,[46] having once been referred to as "Republican Jews".[47] As recently as 2006 the outreach of America's two major political parties have been unbalanced, with the Democratic Party devoting more resources in attracting Asian Americans.[48] 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.[49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Aoki, Andrew; Takeda, Okiyoshi (2008). Asian American Politics. Polity. p. 106. ISBN 9780745634463. Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  3. ^ Niiya, Brian; Japanese American National Museum (1993). Japanese American history: an A-to-Z reference from 1868 to the present. VNR AG. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-8160-2680-7. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  4. ^ CYNTHIA DE CASTR (18 November 2008). "Benjamin Jerome ‘Ben’ Cayetano: 1st US FilAm State Governor". Asian Journal. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  5. ^ "Governor Locke". Washington State Office of the Governor. 2004. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  6. ^ Jan Moller (21 October 2007). "1st Indian-American governor in U.S. vows 'fresh start' for La". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved 23 February 2011. 
  7. ^ Belles of the South Audrey/Asian Women's Magazine - April/May 06'[dead link]
  8. ^ a b "Haley Becomes South Carolina's 1st Woman Governor". Associated Press. 2 November 2010. Archived from the original on 25 January 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  9. ^ Raju Chebium (14 February 2011). "Second generation Indian-Americans shed apathy, vie for public service". International Business Times. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  10. ^ Reshma Dhawan (2009). "The New Face of Politics...An Interview with Kamala Harris". Cultural Features. DesiClub, Inc. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  11. ^ Nina Huang (22 December 2010). "The top 10 amazing Asian American achievers of 2010". North Asian Weekly. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  12. ^ Dodge, Andrew R (2005). Biographical directory of the United States Congress, 1774 - 2005. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-16-073176-1. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f Lorraine H. Tong (7 July 2010). "Asian Pacific Americans in the United States Congress". Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  14. ^ Lynda Arakawa (19 August 2004). "First Asian in U.S. Senate broke barriers". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  15. ^ "Biography". Office of Representative Robert C. "Bobby" Scott. Archived from the original on 3 March 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  16. ^ Drummond Ayres Jr., B. (28 April 1998). "Political Briefing; To His Own Party, Persona Non Grata". New York Times. Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  17. ^ Zwetsloot, J. (22 December 2008). "Melissa Lee - first Korean member in New Zealand's parliament". Korean Culture and Information Service. Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  18. ^ Braden Smith (6 April 2010). "Online exclusive: Congressman Wu visits campus for ‘Pizza & Politics’". The Linfield Review. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  19. ^ Charles Pope; Janie Har; Beth Slovic (26 July 2011). "Rep. David Wu boxed in by ethics investigation, forced to resign after pressure from colleagues". The Oregonian. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  20. ^ Tony Batt (30 April 2008). "Ensign stands firm on vote". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  21. ^ Jonathan D. Salant; James Rowley (22 April 2011). "Nevada Senator Ensign Will Resign May 3 to Avoid Ethics Inquiry of Affair". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  22. ^ "Fil-Am lawmaker decides not to seek reelection in Ohio". ABS-CBN news. January 19, 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  23. ^ Pat Gee (13 June 2010). "Djou makes history as Thai American". Star Advertiser. Retrieved 21 February 2012. Besides being the first Republican from Hawaii elected to Congress in 20 years, U.S. Rep. Charles Djou is the first person of Thai ancestry to serve in Congress. 
  24. ^ Associated Press (14 June 2010). "Djou is first Thai-American in Congress". KPUA. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  25. ^ Curtis Lum (1 August 2011). "Charles Djou eyes possibilities in next fall's elections". Pacific Business News. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  26. ^ "First Bangladeshi-American Elected to US Congress". Voice of America. 3 November 2010. Archived from the original on 25 January 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  27. ^ Pegram, Chad; Marcos, Christina (7 August 2012). "Peters defeats Clarke in feisty member-versus-member Michigan Democratic primary". Fox News. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  28. ^ a b Wang, Frances Kai-Hwa (12 November 2014). "Midterm Elections: How Did Asian-American Candidates Fare". NBC News. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  29. ^ "New Congress Includes More Women, Minorities". New York Times. Associated Press. 4 January 2015. Retrieved 28 May 2015. There are 34 Hispanic lawmakers, including 10 Republicans, as well as 10 Asian-Americans and two Native Americans, both Oklahoma Republicans. Democrat Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is the only Asian-American in the Senate. 
    Krogstad, Jens Manuel (12 January 2015). "114th Congress is most diverse ever". Fact Tank. Pew Research Center. Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  30. ^ "Profile: Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta: Only Democrat in President George W. Bush's Cabinet Asked to Stay On". ABC News. 13 January 2005. Archived from the original on 29 January 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  31. ^ "U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao Visits Houston Chinese Community Center". 28 April 2006. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  32. ^ Harumi Gondo (27 February 2009). "Obama's Asian-American Cabinet picks". UPI Asia. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  33. ^ Mak, Tim (1 June 2014). "There Are No Asian-Americans In The Cabinet For The First Time Since 2000". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  34. ^ a b Jeffrey D. Schultz, ed., Encyclopedia of Minorities in American Politics (2000) Volume 1 pp 261-62
  35. ^ William Wei, The Asian American movement (1993) pp 16, 226, 274
  36. ^ William Wei, The Asian American movement (1993) pp 170, 274
  37. ^ a b Jim Lobe, Asian-Americans lean toward Kerry, Asia Times. September 16, 2004.
  38. ^ Election results, America Votes 2004, CNN;
    ^ Exit Polls, CNN.
  39. ^ Hilburn, Matthew (2012-11-07). "Exit Polls Show Asian Americans Backed Obama by Wide Margin". Voice of America. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  40. ^ Lee, Taeku. "Asian Americans and the Electorate". American Political Science Association. Retrieved 23 August 2009. 
  41. ^ Feng, Rex (24 October 2008). "Who Is The Asian American Voter?". AsianWeek. Retrieved 23 August 2009. 
  42. ^ Jerry Large (26 September 2012). "Asian-American voters a force in November election". Seattle Times. Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  43. ^ a b Karthick Ramakrishnan; Taeku Lee (8 October 2012). "Public Opinion Of a Growing Electorate: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2012" (PDF). The National Asian American Survey. Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  44. ^ Matthew Hilburn (17 January 2013). "Asian-American Vote Reveals Nuances". Voice of America. Retrieved 25 January 2013. Chinese-Americans were the least likely to affiliate with a party. Magpantay suggested that only one third of Chinese-Americans belong to a party, compared with 71 percent among all Asian-Americans, because of the negative association of the word party with the Communist Party in China. 
  45. ^ McLaughlin, Seth (9 November 2014). "GOP makes big inroads with Asian voters in midterms". Washington Times. Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  46. ^ Chen, Edith Wen-Chu (2010). Grace J. Yoo, ed. Encyclopedia of Asian American Issues Today, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 722. ISBN 978-0-313-34751-1. Retrieved 19 March 2011. 
  47. ^ Cho, Wendy K. Tam (2002). "Tapping Motives and Dynamics behind Campaign Contributions: Insights from the Asian American Case". American Politics Research (SAGE Publications) 30 (4): 347–383. doi:10.1177/1532673X02030004001. Retrieved 19 March 2011. 
  48. ^ Stewart David Ikeda. "Has the GOP Given Up on Asian Americans?". IMDiversity Inc. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  49. ^ Edwards, Tom (20 July 2009). "Voter Turnout Increases by 5 Million in 2008 Presidential Election". U.S. Census Bureau News (U.S. Department of Commerce). Archived from the original on 11 July 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-26. 

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