May 4, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Report: AAPI elected officials make up 0.9% of U.S. elected leaders

Reproduced from Reflective Democracy Campaign; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Reflective Democracy Campaign; Chart: Axios Visuals

Asian American and Pacific Islander elected officials make up just 0.9% of elected leaders in the U.S., despite AAPIs accounting for 6.1% of the population, according to a Reflective Democracy Campaign report released Tuesday.

Why it matters: The report comes amid growing calls for greater AAPI visibility, following two mass shootings in which East Asian women and Sikh Americans were killed. The country has also witnessed a yearlong spike in anti-Asian incidents.

By the numbers: The report, based on data from May 2020, found that AAPIs make up...

  • 2.8% of elected officials in the federal government.
  • 1.6% of elected officials in statewide positions.
  • 2.1% of elected officials in state legislatures.
  • 0.5% of elected officials in county-wide positions.
  • 2.4% of elected officials in citywide positions.

Most states with significant AAPI populations are "seriously deficient" in AAPI political representation, the report found.

  • Hawaii is the only state whose share of AAPI elected officials nears its share of AAPIs overall.

In the criminal justice sector, AAPI invisibility is a "national crisis," the report noted.

  • AAPIs make up only 0.24% of elected prosecutors and 0.07% of county sheriffs.
    • That's two AAPI sheriffs among the country's 3,035 sheriffs.
  • Incarcerated AAPIs are often categorized as "other," contributing to their erasure even though Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in Hawaii are incarcerated at four times the rate of white people, per the report.

Worth noting: The U.S. shut AAPIs out of politics for centuries, disenfranchising most AAPIs until the 1950s.

The big picture: Despite President Biden's promise to appoint the most diverse Cabinet in U.S. history, his is the first in 20 years without an AAPI secretary.

  • Following pressure, Biden last month named Erika Moritsugu as deputy assistant to the president and AAPI senior liaison.

The bottom line: "The people making and carrying out the political choices that affect AAPI communities don’t reflect them," said Premal Dharia, executive director of Harvard Law School's Institute to End Mass Incarceration, per the Reflective Democracy Campaign. "It is imperative that this change."

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