Study shows lack of representation in US politics, particularly from MENA backgrounds
A study by New American Leaders (NAL), a group that supports immigrants and children of immigrants to run for public office, has found that there remains a stark lack of representation of all segments of the US population in the country's political leadership.
Their study found that first-generation Americans comprised around 10 percent of the voting age population and yet account for around 4 percent of members of state legislatures, a small increase from prior to 2020 at 3.5 percent.
Among the least represented are those from the Middle East and North African (MENA) region, with only three new legislators serving in the 2022 legislative session.
"Our democratic system is filled with outdated practices that aren’t representative of our increasingly diverse population’s needs," NAL CEO and President Ghida Dagher told The New Arab, adding that the country's founding fathers - white, landowning men - designed the government in their own image, thereby excluding the majority of the population.
"But when New Americans are in elected office, we bring our lived experiences into the policy process, highlighting perspectives that are traditionally not considered. We lead with our communities and values first, changing policies and the political process as a whole to create a more inclusive system and strengthening our democracy," she said.
While there are good reasons to want to diversify political representation in the US, it is much easier said than done. Obstacles include lack of access to campaign financing, part-time positions in state legislatures as well as low salaries. Some of these needs have been addressed in some of the larger states.
However, for the most part, fundraising remains a challenge, and many legislators have to work second jobs to support their low-paying, often part-time political positions.
Moreover, as Dagher points out, around 90 percent of New American leaders are registered members of the Democratic Party.
"If Republicans wish to maintain their majorities in state legislatures and build a future base of voters, then they must take a hard look at their current platforms, messaging, and campaign strategies to become more inclusive," she said
As for MENA representation, there were some gains in this week's midterms, including in Georgia, Michigan and Illinois. However, gaps in representation remain.
"MENA New American communities need significant investment from local leaders, funders, and national community building organisations to close the representation gap," said Dagher.
"We believe that by investing in existing grassroots organisations and fostering meaningful relationships with MENA leaders, we can overcome the discrimination and exclusion our communities have faced to create a more inclusive, representative democracy."