In the past two decades, Asian Americans have become one of the fastest growing racial or ethnic groups in the United States. Between 2000 and 2019, the Asian population in the United States grew by 81%, and the population is projected to pass 35 million by 2060. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders were the third-fastest growing group, growing by 61% from 2000 to 2019. Their population is projected to pass 2 million by 2030.
While the largest AAPI populations continue to be in states like New York, California, Texas and Hawaii, other states across the country have seen their AAPI populations more than double over the last two decades. Nevada has seen a full 167% increase in the AAPI population since 2000. Arizona grew by 157%, and North Carolina by 154% in that same period.
The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) electorate is a formidable community with the power to shape and influence elections down the ticket throughout the country.
The 2020 presidential election saw historic voter turnout by the AAPI electorate. AAPI voters had the highest growth of any racial group in 2020, with a 47% increase. This milestone happened despite a rise of anti-Asian hate and violence, and a global pandemic that shut down the US economy. However, it did not happen overnight. This was a result of decades of population growth, coordinated organizing, and strategic investments to encourage AAPIs to register and vote at the same levels as other communities.
In the last three presidential cycles, approximately 620,000 new AAPI voters entered the electorate, with eligible AAPI voters in various states making up more than 5% of the state’s electorate, including California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Virginia, Texas and Washington. It is increasingly clear that candidates and elected officials must understand our growing political power and address issues important to our communities.
The decisions made by policymakers and our representatives at all levels of government impacts our day-to-day lives – from how much funding local schools get to policies around crime prevention and gun safety.
AAPI voters are important because our voices in the political and policy discourse must reflect our priorities and needs. However, if AAPIs aren’t at the table or in positions where they can influence policy decisions, our needs and voices are ignored or forgotten.
AAPIs are also the most underrepresented in office – making up just 0.9% of elected officials in the US – despite being over 6% of the population. It is important that AAPI voters see more reflective leadership so they understand that our representative democracy includes and works for their best interest, and to ensure that their needs, especially in the most vulnerable populations, are addressed with cultural understanding and in the languages they are proficient in.
The growth of AAPI influence and power extends beyond the political sphere, into all aspects of American society. For example, AAPIs are integral to the success of the American economy — Census data shows that in 2019 alone, the AAPI community earned more than $783.7 billion in income, paid more than $167.9 billion in federal income taxes and almost $72.5 billion in state and local taxes. A pre-pandemic Neilson study projected the collective buying power of Asian Americans to reach $1.3 trillion in 2022.
AAPIs as professionals, business owners, service providers, consumers, and active members of America’s economy play an important role in shaping the future of our collective communities. The decisions made by today’s leaders must reflect the growing needs and roles of AAPIs in American society, beginning with appreciating the power of our votes.