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New Americans in the Voting Booth: The Growing Electoral Power of Immigrant Communities

The United States is in the midst of a major demographic transformation that has profound political consequences. Over the past couple of decades, the number of voters who are immigrants or the native-born children of immigrants (“New Americans”)—as well as members of the larger communities to which immigrants and their children belong (primarily Latinos and Asians)—has grown dramatically. Between 1996 and 2012, the number of New American registered voters rose by 10.6 million—an increase of 143.1 percent—and the number of registered voters who are Latinos or Asians and Pacific Islanders (APIs)  increased by 9.8 million. Conversely, fewer and fewer voters are native-born whites.

Immigrants who are naturalized citizens, and the native-born children of immigrants born since the current era of large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia began in 1965, are referred to in this report as “New Americans.” The U.S.-born children of immigrants in particular occupy a unique position in U.S. society in that they have watched one or both of their parents navigate a new society and culture. As a result, they are personally connected to the struggles of immigrants and to the ways in which U.S. society reacts to and treats immigrants.

New Americans are both closely connected to, and many are a part of, the Latino and Asian communities in the United States. Latinos and Asians include not only immigrants and their children, but also families that have lived here for many generations. However, in general, Latinos and Asians have a close connection to the immigrant experience because they are immigrants themselves, or their parents were immigrants, or they live in neighborhoods where friends and extended family members are immigrants.

Together, New Americans, Latinos, and APIs are the fastest growing segments of the electorate. This trend goes far beyond the political dynamics of any particular election. New Americans, Latinos, and APIs constitute a rapidly rising political force with which more and more candidates for public office will have to reckon. In the coming years, politicians who alienate these voters will find it increasingly difficult to win national and many state and local elections—especially in close races.

The electoral power of New American, Latino, and API voters is substantial—and it’s growing fast.

There were 18.1 million New Americans registered to vote in 2012, totaling 11.8 percent of all registered voters. This amounts to an increase of 10.6 million (or 143.1 percent) since 1996. As of 2012, 13.7 million Latinos accounted for 8.9 percent of all registered voters, while 4.8 million APIs accounted for 3.2 percent. Between 1996 and 2012, the number of Latino registered voters increased by 7.1 million (an increase of 108.4 percent). API registered voters increased in number by 2.7 million (an increase of 125.5 percent). Between 1996 and 2012, the Latino share of all registered voters increased by 3.8 percentage points and the API share by 1.5 percentage points. In contrast, the non-Latino white share declined by 8.0 percentage points.

New Americans, Latinos, and APIs account for large and growing shares of registered voters in many electorally important states.

New Americans

California is home to more New American registered voters (4.7 million) than any other state. This is followed by New York (2.1 million), Florida (1.8 million), and Texas (1.4 million). New Americans comprise just under one-third of registered voters in California—the highest share in the nation. Next in line is New York, with nearly one-quarter of registered voters being New Americans. In Nevada, New Jersey, and Florida, New Americans make up about one-fifth of all registered voters. The number of New American registered voters increased by the largest margin in California (2.7 million) between 1996 and 2012. The number also grew significantly in Florida (1.1 million) and New York (1.1 million). In terms of percentages, the ranks of New American registered voters increased most dramatically in Nevada: growing by 588.6 percent. Next are Georgia (472.8 percent), North Carolina (423.8 percent), and Arizona (397.6 percent). The New American share of registered voters increased by more than 15 percentage points in Nevada and California during this period. New York experienced an 11 percentage point increase, and both Florida and Arizona registered an increase of nearly 10 percentage points.

Latinos

The largest number of Latino registered voters resides in California (3.7 million). Next in line are Texas (2.7 million), Florida (1.6 million), and New York (1 million). Latinos comprise more than one-third of registered voters in New Mexico, and nearly a quarter in Texas and California. In Arizona and Florida, Latinos account for just under one-fifth of registered voters. The number of Latino registered voters increased the most from 1996 to 2012 in California (2 million), Texas (1 million), and Florida (1 million). The percentage increase in the number of Latino registered voters was greatest in Tennessee (1,063.6 percent), Arkansas (891.6 percent), and North Carolina (779.9 percent). The Latino share of registered voters grew by roughly 11 percentage points in California and Nevada between 1996 and 2012. In Florida there was an increase of 8.2 percentage points, followed by Arizona (5.9 percentage points).

APIs

The greatest number of API registered voters is found in California (1.7 million), followed by New York (400,000), Texas (300,000), and Hawaii (300,000). APIs account for nearly one-half of all registered voters in Hawaii, and more than one out of ten in California. From 1996 to 2012, the number of API registered voters increased by 845,000 in California. Other large increases also occurred in New York (202,000) and Texas (200,000). The most dramatic growth in numbers of API registered voters occurred in Alabama, increasing from virtually nothing in 1996 to 17,235 in 2012. The growth rate in Florida during this time was 1,099.1 percent, followed by the District of Columbia (611.1 percent), Georgia (493.3 percent), and Nevada (457.7 percent). The greatest increase in the API share of registered voters between 1996 and 2012 occurred in Nevada (5.5 percentage points). Close behind were California (4.4 percentage points) and New Jersey (4.1 percentage points).

The Potential Power of the New American Vote

The electoral power which New Americans wield—or can wield, especially in close elections—is evident in the fact that the number of New American voters in 2012 exceeded the margin by which President Obama either won or lost the race in 12 states. Specifically, New American voters were greater in number than President Obama’s margin of victory in California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Their numbers were greater than Obama’s margin of defeat in Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina. 

Introduction

The United States is in the midst of a major demographic transformation that has profound political (and economic) consequences. In 2011, the first of the baby boomers—predominantly white, native-born Americans born between 1946 and 1964—turned 65 years old. There are 77 million baby boomers, comprising nearly one quarter of the total population, and their declining numbers are having an enormous impact on all facets of U.S. society—including the political system. Put simply, more and more voters are immigrants and the native-born children of immigrants, as well as members of the larger communities to which immigrants and their children belong—primarily Latinos and Asians. Conversely, fewer and fewer voters are native-born whites.

The U.S.-born children of immigrants occupy a unique position in U.S. society in that they have watched one or both of their parents navigate a new society and culture. As a result, they are personally connected to the struggles of immigrants and to the ways in which U.S. society reacts to and treats immigrants. The native-born children of immigrants born since the current era of large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia began in 1965 are likely to be the most attuned to the contemporary immigrant experience.

Immigrants who have become U.S. citizens (naturalized citizens) and the U.S.-born children of immigrants are both closely connected to, and many are a part of, the Latino and Asian communities in the United States. Latinos and Asians include not only immigrants and their children, but also families that have lived here for many generations. However, in general, Latinos and Asians have a close connection to the immigrant experience because they are immigrants themselves, or their parents were immigrants, or they live in neighborhoods where friends and extended family members are immigrants.

Immigrants who are naturalized citizens, and the (post-1965) native-born children of immigrants, are collectively referred to in this report as “New Americans.” In addition, in this analysis, the relatively small Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population is grouped together with the Asian population. Together, New Americans, Latinos, and Asians and Pacific Islanders (APIs) are the fastest growing segments of the electorate. This trend goes far beyond the political dynamics of any particular election. New Americans, Latinos, and APIs constitute a rapidly rising political force with which more and more candidates for public office will have to reckon. In the coming years, politicians who alienate these voters will find it increasingly difficult to win national and many state and local elections—especially in close races.

This demographic shift is apparent in electoral data from the Current Population Survey (CPS). Between 1996 and 2012, for instance, the number of New American registered voters increased by 143.1 percent, while the number of registered voters who are not New Americans grew by only 12.4 percent. Similarly, the number of registered voters who are API increased 125.5 percent during this period, and the number who are Latino went up 108.3 percent—compared to an increase of 8.3 percent among white registered voters.

At the state level, New Americans, Latinos, and APIs constitute a predictably large share of registered voters in traditional immigrant “gateways” such as California, New York, Texas, Illinois, and Florida. However, some of the fastest growth rates are found in other states. The highest percentage increase in the number of New American registered voters between 1996 and 2012 took place in Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, and Washington. The highest percentage increase in the number of Latino registered voters occurred in Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, and West Virginia. In short, the electoral power of immigrant communities is rising fast, or is already significant, in every part of the country.

The Importance of Immigration as an Election Issue

New Americans, Latinos, and Asians all feel the impact of current immigration policies. The rising number of deportations over the past few years has resulted in an unprecedented number of family members being separated from one another. Because a significant number of New American voters belong to “mixed status” families, or have direct contact with people vulnerable to deportations, they are both directly and indirectly affected by the inequities of the U.S. immigration system.

Nearly 5 million non-citizens were removed from the country between 1996 and 2013. In 2013 alone, 438,421 individuals were deported—up from the 418,397 in 2012. Because many of those deported have families in the United States, including U.S.-citizen spouses and children, deportations quite often result in family separation. The Pew Research Center estimates that approximately 5.5 million children in the United States as of 2010 had at least one parent who was an unauthorized immigrant.

Not surprisingly, a survey conducted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Latino Decisions in June 2014 found that two-thirds of Latino registered voters are paying attention “very closely” or “somewhat closely” to the immigration policy debate that is taking place in Congress right now. In addition, 62 percent said that they knew somebody who was an unauthorized immigrant, and 32 percent knew someone who had faced detention or deportation for immigration reasons.

Along the same lines, a study on public attitudes among Latinos and Asian Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that immigration reform is important to both groups. Nearly 70 percent of Latinos say it is important to them that immigration reform passes this year, and 44 percent of Asian Americans share that view. According to the same survey, 59 percent of Latino immigrants in particular and 46 percent of Latinos in general say they worry “a lot” or “some” that they themselves, or a family member, or a close friend could be deported. The shares of Asian American immigrants and Asian Americans who worry about deportation are 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

However, the problems with the immigration system are not limited to the unauthorized population and the effects on families and communities of mass deportations. Significant backlogs in the family immigration system have been a long-standing issue for the Asian American community. Many Asian American individuals in the United States have to wait years and sometimes decades to be reunited with their loved ones overseas. The possibility of Congress passing immigration reform offered New Americans in general, and Asian Americans in particular, hope of being reunited with family members. Consequently, the lack of action on immigration is clearly an element that informs the political behavior of Asian Americans as well as Latinos.

This report uses CPS data to document the rising numbers of New American, Latino, and API registered voters both nationally and at the state level. The report first looks at the numbers of New American, Latino, and API registered voters nationally as of 2012, then examines how much these numbers have grown since 1996. This growth is measured in two ways: increases in the absolute numbers of New American, Latino, and API registered voters; and increases in the New American, Latino, and API shares of registered voters. A similar approach is used at the state level. “Top ten” states are ranked according to the absolute numbers of New American, Latino, and API registered voters as of 2012, and then as shares of all registered voters in the state. Next, the increasing numbers of New American, Latino, and API registered voters since 1996 are measured in three ways: increases in absolute numbers, percentage increases, and increases in shares of all registered voters in the state. Appendix tables at the end of the report provide detailed data for every state in the country. 

View all 24 charts on New American voters and the appendix tables here.

Glossary

API: Individuals who self-selected either “Asian” or “Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander” as their race, but did not select “Hispanic or Latino” as their ethnicity.

Black: Individuals who self-selected “black or African American” as their race, but did not select “Hispanic or Latino” as their ethnicity.

Native-Born Children of Immigrants: Native-born Americans who were born to at least one foreign-born parent no earlier than 1965, which is when the current era of large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia began.

New Americans: Immigrants who are naturalized U.S. citizens, together with native-born Americans who were born no earlier than 1965 to at least one foreign-born parent.

White: Individuals who self-selected “white” as their race, but did not select “Hispanic or Latino” as their ethnicity.

Source of Data and Time Frame Analysis

Unless otherwise noted, the data in this report is derived from the Voting and Registration Supplement to the Current Population Survey. This survey is conducted in November after the biennial federal elections. The data, and the survey from which it is derived, are subject to two principal limitations. First, actual voter turnout and registration may be overestimated by the CPS because individuals may over-report their electoral participation. Secondly, the CPS is a national survey and estimates derived from smaller sub-groups of the national population may be based on relatively small sample sizes. As a result, the margin of error associated with estimates of voting and registration for these sub-groups is greater than the margin of error associated with the national population.

For the purposes of this analysis, the relatively small Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population is grouped together with the Asian population.

Data for this report spans the period 1996 through 2012.

Published On: Tue, Sep 23, 2014 | Download File