IGS Graduate Fellow Finds Hispanics, Asian Americans Face Election Barriers

Christian Dyogi Phillips
Christian Dyogi Phillips
January 26, 2016

Asian-Americans and Latinos hold fewer than 2 percent of the 500,000 seats nationally in state and local offices, even though they make up more than 20 percent of the US population, according to a new report conducted by IGS Graduate Fellow Christian Dyogi Phillips in partnership with The New American Leaders Project. 

The New American Leaders Project (NALP) is a non-profit focused on recruiting and supporting people from immigrant communities who run for public office. Phillips, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Travers Department of Political Science at UC Berkeley, is studying the emergence and success of Asian American and Latina/o candidates in the United States. With interests aligned, the two decided to undertake a new national survey, with a large sample of Asian American and Latina/o state legislators, to help them answer some of the longstanding questions about underrepresentation and the challenges people face in running for office. In order to fund the survey, Phillips and NALP secured grants from IGS and the New York Community Trust.

Sayu Bhojwani, the president and founder of the New American Leaders Project, told the Washington Post that “Part of the reason for the representation gap [is] because the existing and traditional parties are not reaching out and encouraging Asians and Latinos and Latinas to run."

When asked how political parties can help to recruit more immigrants and children of immigrants to run for office, Bhojwani told the Observer, “A big part of it is making it seem possible, and uplifting the role models who are already there.”

Additionally, the report found that while non-Whites make up nearly 40 percent of the American public, state legislators who identify as African American, Asian American, Latina/o and Native American hold only 14 percent of all seats. The report also highlights the gender gap in state Legislatures, with women holding 24 percent of the lawmaking jobs and men holding 76 percent.

Despite the data, Bhoiwani told The New York Times that there are encouraging signs. “What we see from this report is that Asian-Americans and Latinos face barriers, yes, but that despite this, they run and win.”

NALP hopes to use this report to inform their thinking on how best to help people who are new to the political process succeed. 

Phillips, who designed and fielded the survey last spring, is using the data for her dissertation. Phillips received a BA in International Relations and Literature at Hampshire College, and an MPA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. In 2015, Phillips was awarded the Institute of Governmental Studies Mike Synar Graduate Research Fellowship, awarded to distinguished UC Berkeley graduate students who are writing their dissertations on an aspect of American politics.