Harris To Asian Americans: Turn Pain And Outrage Into Political Power After a year in which they were galvanized by a surge of racially motivated attacks, Asian Americans are seeking — and wielding — more political power.

Harris To Asian Americans: Turn Pain And Outrage Into Political Power

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When last year's election results showed Georgia to be a purple state - a state that voted for Joe Biden, a state that elected two Democratic senators - Asian American voters were part of that picture. They are a growing part of a vital state's electorate. And that is one sign of the rising political influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which NPR political reporter Juana Summers has been following. Good morning.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Morning.

INSKEEP: How is this part of the electorate changing?

SUMMERS: Well, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. electorate, and right now we are seeing something of a political awakening. This community has experienced a dramatic spike in the number of racially motivated attacks in the past year during this pandemic, which has had a galvanizing effect. That is something that Vice President Kamala Harris touched on when she spoke at a virtual event for the AAPI Victory Alliance last night.

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KAMALA HARRIS: As a member of this community, I share in that outrage and grief. And I believe we have an opportunity now to turn that pain into action.

SUMMERS: Harris also talked about a bill that President Biden will sign today intended to address that increase in hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans.

INSKEEP: Well, what can you tell us about the political power of Asian Americans right now?

SUMMERS: So I spoke with Karthick Ramakrishnan, who is the director of AAPI Data, and his analysis of Census Bureau data shows that turnout among Asian Americans shot up from 49% in 2016 to 60% in 2020. And among Pacific Islanders, there was a jump from 41% in 2016 to 55% in 2020. Now, those numbers are lower overall - the national turnout in the last election - but they were the biggest increases among any racial or ethnic group. And in 2020, as you point out, that was to the benefit of then-candidate Joe Biden and Democrats. Now, I asked Ramakrishnan to explain to me why this turnout surge may have happened. He said there are a slew of reasons, but one important thing that he did point to is a sharp increase in voting among the second generation who were born in the United States to immigrant parents.

KARTHICK RAMAKRISHNAN: This second generation is coming of political age. And especially during this moment of COVID and the increase in anti-Asian racism and hate incidents, you are seeing a kind of political consciousness that's forming that will likely last a generation.

SUMMERS: And that, he told me, can tell you a lot about what this participation might look like in the future.

INSKEEP: Although I'm remembering a couple of years ago we did a profile of a Chinese American state legislator, and part of the notable fact of that - it's just that she was rare. There are not that many Asian American elected officials.

SUMMERS: And Steve, that is still true. The Reflective Democracy Campaign did a report recently. It found that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up less than 1% of elected leaders. When you look at all levels of government, Asians now make up about 7% of the nation's overall population. Now, that being said, we do know that more Asian Americans are running for office now than ever before, including folks like Andrew Yang, who ran for president in 2020, now running to be the mayor of New York. Michelle Wu is running to be the mayor of Boston. And there have been all these groups that have sprung up that are working to recruit potential candidates and breaks down some of these barriers they face when considering whether or not to seek office.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Juana Summers. Thanks, as always, for your reporting.

SUMMERS: You're welcome.

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