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Stepping Up: The Impact of the Newest Immigrant, Asian, and Latino Voters

by Rob Paral

Amid the current debate on immigration reform, much attention is on House members and how their vote for or against reform will play in their home districts.  But many congressional districts have a huge number of naturalized immigrants and young Asians and Latinos who are entering the electorate, and who deeply support immigration reform. 

Political analysts frequently discuss the changing demographics of voters but no analysis to date has quantified a key aspect of this change for each congressional district.  Thus, we have no way of knowing what portion of newly eligible voters in the 2014 elections come from either Asian and Latino citizen teenagers who will vote for the first time in 2014, or from legal immigrants who will naturalize by 2014.

Young Asians and Latinos will have a major impact on the composition of newly eligible voters in upcoming elections.  These groups are highly represented among the population of teenage citizens that become able to vote for the first time with each election.  About 1.8 million U.S. citizen Asians and Latinos become eligible to vote in each two-year election cycle.

Immigrants who become U.S. citizens through naturalization will also be a significant contributor to the evolving electorate.  Each election cycle, about 1.4 million of these new citizens become eligible to vote nationally.

Together, these groups will constitute 34 percent of all newly eligible voters in the 2014 elections.

In certain states and congressional districts, the impact of these newly eligible voters will be even greater.  For example, in Texas, these groups will be about 53 percent of all newly eligible voters in 2014.  In Florida they will be 45 percent.  However, California tops the list with young Asians, young Latinos, and recently naturalized U.S. citizens composing 68 percent of the newly eligible voters in 2014.

Historically, young adults have relatively low registration and voting rates, and this may slow their impact on election outcomes.  But they will steadily enter the electorate and move into older age cohorts that indeed vote more frequently.  Young Asians and Latinos have unique motivations to vote because immigration reform often directly affects their parents and families.  These young persons are also the target of competing efforts of the major parties to win their support.

Introduction

Stepping Up Thumb

Since the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill on June 27, 2013, speculation over its fate in the House of Representatives has been a constant fixture among political pundits and the media.  By all accounts, public support for immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, continues to grow, as does the list of House members who have come out in support of it.  Many analysts have attributed the changing demographics of the country as the catalyst for change.  In fact, supporters of immigration reform tend to represent highly diverse, multi-racial communities.  However, demographics alone don’t necessarily move politicians, and many would resist attributing their change of heart to demographics, pointing instead to economic, social, and moral reasons for supporting reform.  But these reasons are linked, particularly among the crop of younger Latino and Asian voters who will come of age, and among new immigrants who will naturalize in the next few election cycles.  In some districts where the demographic shift is not yet apparent, it is nonetheless on the horizon.  Keeping in mind the concerns that these new voters bring to the table should become an important factor in taking a stand today in favor of reform.   

Our analysis of immigration trends and the demographic composition of U.S. House districts shows that numerous congressional districts have emerging electorates who have many reasons to care deeply about immigration reform.  It is not surprising that many of these districts are represented by Democrats, whose districts tend to be less white and more racially diverse.  But large numbers of Republican Members of Congress represent districts where there are sizable numbers of the new voters who are either immigrants themselves (i.e., newly naturalized citizens) or who come from families and communities in which the legacy of immigration is strong (i.e., young, U.S. citizen Asians and Latinos).

New York’s 11th district, currently held by Republican Congressman Michael Grimm, provides an example of how these new voters may shift the agenda over time.  Congressman Grimm serves an area whose overall population is currently 64 percent white, non-Latino.  But by the 2014 elections, a majority (55 percent) of all newly eligible voters in the 11th district will be persons who are newly naturalized citizens, or U.S. citizen Asian or Latino youth newly eligible to vote. 

This story is repeated in Democratic and Republican districts across the country and reflects a larger narrative of American racial and ethnic change.  Forty years ago, our country was 83 percent white and 95 percent native-born.  Today it is only 64 percent white and 87 percent native-born.  The demographic transformation is well-documented at national and state levels.  However, less attention has been paid to how these changes are affecting congressional districts, particularly within the context of immigration reform.

Nationally, One-Third of Newly Eligible Voters in 2014 Will Be Young Latinos, Young Asians or Recently Naturalized Immigrants

With each upcoming two-year election cycle, the composition of congressional districts and their eligible voters changes as younger adults – and the racial/ethnic groups they represent – enter the voting booth.  This transformation of the electorate is happening because younger Americans are much more diverse than older Americans.  For example, our analysis of Census Bureau data (described later) finds that only about 9 percent of U.S. citizens aged 55 years and older are either Asian or Latino.  But looking at citizens turning 18 between the 2012 and 2014 congressional elections, we see the Asian and Latino portion rise to 23 percent.

During each two-year election cycle over the last decade, almost 1.4 million legal immigrants acquired citizenship and the right to vote.  These new citizens also represent diverse demographics.  About 36 percent come from Asia and more than 30 percent come from Latin America.

In the 2014 elections, there will be approximately 9.3 million newly eligible voters. These include both people who were 16 or 17 years old at the time of the 2012 elections, as well as immigrants who become naturalized U.S. citizens between 2012 and 2014.

Of these 9.3 million newly eligible voters, 1.8 million will be Asian or Latino.  Another 1.4 million will be new U.S. citizens through naturalization.  Together, these 3.2 million people will comprise 34 percent of the new electorate.

Asian/Latino Youth and Newly Naturalized Immigrant Pct. of All Potential New Voters in 2014 Elections


#

% of Total

New Potential Voters

 9,376,173

100.0%

API/Latino Citizens

 1,838,318

19.6%

Newly Naturalized Immigrants

 1,365,745

14.6%

Other Races

 6,172,110

65.8%

Fig 1

The impact of newly eligible Asian, Latino, and immigrant voters is not a one-time event.  It stretches across future election cycles and its influence grows over time.  Of younger Americans, such as those who will not turn 18 until the 2020 elections, there are even more Asians and Latinos than those who are slightly older and who will turn 18 in time for the 2014 elections.  Together, Asian and Latino youth and naturalized immigrants will be 34 percent of newly eligible voters in 2014, 35 percent in 2016, 36 percent in 2018, and 37 percent in 2020.

Asian/Latino Youth and Newly Naturalized Immigrant Pct. of All Potential New Voters


In 2014 Elections

In 2016 Elections

In 2018 Elections

In 2020 Elections

New Potential Voters

            9,376,173

            9,239,157

            9,355,234

            9,327,464

API/Latino Citizens

            1,838,318

1,869,913

1,972,251

2,078,274

Newly Naturalized Immigrants

         1,365,745

         1,365,745

         1,365,745

         1,365,745

Other Races

            6,172,110

6,003,499

6,017,238

5,883,445






Pct. of Total

100.0%

100.0%

100.0%

100.0%

Pct. API/Latino Citizens

19.6%

20.2%

21.1%

22.3%

Pct. Newly Naturalized Immigrants

14.6%

14.8%

14.6%

14.6%

Pct. Other Races

65.8%

65.0%

64.3%

63.1%

Fig 2

The immediate effect of the newly eligible voters is small, representing only about 1.4 percent of voting age citizens by 2014.  However, the cumulative impact is such that by the 2020 elections, young Asians, Latinos and naturalized immigrants will account for approximately 5 percent of all eligible voters.  In particular districts this impact will be more concentrated; in many districts, it may be enough to decide a close race.

The Impact of New Voters Will Be Felt in Numerous States, Including Politically Competitive Ones

The majority of foreign-born Asians and Latinos in the US reside in so-called “gateway states” like California and New York that have been immigrant destinations for decades.  Other states like Washington or Nevada have attracted immigrants in recent decades, but their relatively small populations mean that immigrants and their children can quickly become a large portion of eligible voters.  Still other states have long-established, non-white populations, such as Hawaii (Asians) and New Mexico (Latinos).

At the time of the 2014 elections, there will be 15 states where Asian/Latino youth and naturalized voters will constitute more than 30 percent of all citizens newly eligible to vote.  Unsurprisingly, California will experience the greatest impact, with nearly two-thirds of newly eligible voters belonging to one of these three groups.  Combined, Latino/Asian youth and naturalized citizens will also be more than half of new potential voters in Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas, and Nevada. 

Fig 3

Districts in Both Parties Will Be Impacted by the Demographic Change

There are 171 congressional districts where naturalized citizens and young Asians and Latinos will comprise at least a third of newly eligible voters in 2014.  This represents 39 percent of all districts.   Fifty-five of the 171 districts are currently represented by a Republican.  Districts where naturalized citizens and young Asian and Latino new voters are more than half of the new voters are overwhelmingly Democratic (79 Democrats to 21 Republicans).  However, the amount of districts where these groups represent between 33 percent and 50 percent of new potential voters are roughly split between the two parties, with 37 districts represented by Democrats and 34 represented by Republicans.

Fig 4

The tables below display, by party, the 25 districts that will experience the largest impact of newly eligible Asian/Latino and naturalized voters.

Click here for a sortable file of all congressional districts.

Click here for a national, interactive map of the districts.

Democratic Districts with Largest Impact of Naturalized Immigrant Voters and Young Asians/Latinos in 2014

Cong Dist

Representative 113th Congress

Party

Newly Eligible Voters

API/

Latino Citizens

Newly Naturalized Immigrants

Other Races

Latino/API and Newly Naturalized Immigrant Pct. of All Potential New Voters: 2014 Elections

CA-34

Becerra

D

     25,394

        15,697

             8,501

        1,196

95.3%

CA-40

Roybal-Allard

D

     30,082

        21,318

             6,634

        2,130

92.9%

TX-34

Vela

D

     24,640

        19,065

             3,360

        2,215

91.0%

CA-46

Sanchez

D

     28,110

        17,483

             7,920

        2,707

90.4%

TX-16

O'Rourke

D

     26,379

        18,291

             5,292

        2,795

89.4%

CA-29

Cárdenas

D

     28,169

        16,729

             8,374

        3,065

89.1%

CA-32

Napolitano

D

     29,854

        17,059

             9,317

        3,478

88.4%

CA-51

Vargas

D

     27,959

        17,769

             6,903

        3,287

88.2%

TX-15

Hinojosa

D

     25,715

        19,206

             3,376

        3,133

87.8%

IL-04

Gutierrez

D

     25,306

        15,877

             6,276

        3,152

87.5%

CA-38

Sánchez

D

     28,893

        16,557

             8,473

        3,863

86.6%

CA-35

Negrete McLeod

D

     29,336

        18,824

             6,331

        4,181

85.7%

TX-29

Green

D

     24,550

        16,859

             4,118

        3,573

85.4%

TX-28

Cuellar

D

     25,762

        18,469

             3,262

        4,031

84.4%

FL-26

Garcia

D

     31,688

        10,734

           15,809

        5,145

83.8%

CA-12

Pelosi

D

     18,391

          5,047

           10,309

        3,035

83.5%

NY-14

Crowley

D

     24,913

        10,129

           10,643

        4,141

83.4%

CA-44

Hahn

D

     29,666

        17,991

             6,636

        5,039

83.0%

CA-17

Honda

D

     27,260

        10,325

           12,189

        4,746

82.6%

CA-19

Lofgren

D

     26,391

        12,309

             9,334

        4,748

82.0%

CA-27

Chu

D

     28,723

        11,019

           12,337

        5,367

81.3%

NY-06

Meng

D

     28,257

          7,628

           15,186

        5,442

80.7%

TX-20

Castro

D

     20,698

        14,106

             2,516

        4,076

80.3%

AZ-07

Pastor

D

     24,836

        16,575

             3,282

        4,979

80.0%

NJ-08

Sires

D

     23,580

          9,426

             9,390

        4,764

79.8%

TX-23

Gallego

D

     25,026

        16,424

             3,484

        5,119

79.5%

TX-33

Veasey

D

     23,290

        15,175

             3,107

        5,007

78.5%

CA-16

Costa

D

     26,459

        16,441

             4,171

        5,847

77.9%

NY-07

Velázquez

D

     24,429

        10,679

             8,217

        5,533

77.4%

NY-13

Rangel

D

     25,103

        11,320

             8,077

        5,707

77.3%

CA-14

Speier

D

     26,111

          8,702

           11,346

        6,063

76.8%

AZ-03

Grijalva

D

     25,371

        15,749

             3,685

        5,938

76.6%

NY-15

Serrano

D

     28,679

        15,306

             6,424

        6,949

75.8%

CA-41

Takano

D

     28,426

        15,749

             5,377

        7,301

74.3%

TX-35

Doggett

D

     19,688

        12,669

             1,943

        5,076

74.2%

CA-47

Lowenthal

D

     25,907

        11,635

             7,483

        6,789

73.8%

CA-28

Schiff

D

     26,143

          6,704

           12,540

        6,898

73.6%

CA-20

Farr

D

     22,174

        12,064

             4,147

        5,963

73.1%

CA-43

Waters

D

     25,777

        12,200

             6,459

        7,118

72.4%

CA-36

Ruiz

D

     23,117

        12,398

             4,292

        6,428

72.2%

HI-01

Hanabusa

D

     19,710

          9,050

             4,877

        5,783

70.7%

NV-01

Titus

D

     20,811

          9,873

             4,802

        6,136

70.5%

CA-53

Davis

D

     23,161

          9,301

             6,756

        7,104

69.3%

CA-37

Bass

D

     22,329

          8,675

             6,545

        7,109

68.2%

NJ-09

Pascrell

D

     27,696

          8,305

           10,513

        8,879

67.9%

CA-30

Sherman

D

     25,404

          7,414

             9,817

        8,173

67.8%

CA-15

Swalwell

D

     26,874

          9,133

             8,692

        9,048

66.3%

NY-12

Maloney

D

     13,286

          2,498

             6,111

        4,677

64.8%

FL-23

Wasserman Schultz

D

     26,071

          6,326

           10,497

        9,248

64.5%

CA-26

Brownley

D

     25,033

        10,947

             5,063

        9,024

64.0%

Republican Districts with Largest Impact of Naturalized Immigrant Voters and Young Asians/Latinos in 2014

Cong Dist

Representative 113th Congress

Party

Newly Eligible Voters

API/Latino Citizens

Newly Naturalized Immigrants

Other Races

Latino/API and Newly Naturalized Immigrant Pct. of All Potential New Voters: 2014 Elections

CA-21

Valadao

R

     25,601

        17,916

             3,595

        4,090

84.0%

FL-27

Ros-Lehtinen

R

     28,722

          9,440

           14,687

        4,595

84.0%

FL-25

Diaz-Balart

R

     31,535

        11,058

           15,003

        5,474

82.6%

CA-39

Royce

R

     29,078

        12,496

             9,638

        6,945

76.1%

CA-31

Miller

R

     26,787

        13,650

             5,026

        8,110

69.7%

NM-02

Pearce

R

     19,765

        11,683

             1,463

        6,619

66.5%

CA-22

Nunes

R

     25,023

        12,521

             3,827

        8,676

65.3%

TX-27

Farenthold

R

     20,243

        10,671

             1,586

        7,986

60.5%

CA-10

Denham

R

     26,404

        11,628

             4,358

     10,418

60.5%

CA-48

Rohrabacher

R

     23,934

          7,031

             7,402

        9,501

60.3%

CA-42

Calvert

R

     28,432

        11,515

             5,276

     11,641

59.1%

CA-45

Campbell

R

     27,175

          7,479

             8,233

     11,462

57.8%

CA-25

McKeon

R

     29,412

        10,958

             5,745

     12,710

56.8%

NY-11

Grimm

R

     26,664

          5,165

             9,415

     12,084

54.7%

TX-22

Olson

R

     26,804

          8,370

             6,008

     12,427

53.6%

TX-07

Culberson

R

     22,945

          7,097

             5,131

     10,717

53.3%

CA-23

McCarthy

R

     24,524

          9,798

             3,099

     11,627

52.6%

CA-08

Cook

R

     25,108

        10,379

             2,696

     12,034

52.1%

WA-04

Hastings

R

     21,662

          9,000

             2,175

     10,487

51.6%

TX-02

Poe

R

     22,196

          7,374

             3,882

     10,940

50.7%

CA-50

Hunter

R

     24,010

          8,348

             3,784

     11,877

50.5%

CA-49

Issa

R

     20,848

          6,696

             3,640

     10,511

49.6%

NV-03

Heck

R

     20,550

          5,186

             4,541

     10,823

47.3%

TX-32

Sessions

R

     21,386

          6,554

             3,500

     11,332

47.0%

TX-24

Marchant

R

     20,895

          6,232

             3,561

     11,102

46.9%

TX-19

Neugebauer

R

     18,524

          7,352

             1,315

        9,856

46.8%

TX-11

Conaway

R

     18,895

          7,342

             1,287

     10,265

45.7%

TX-21

Smith

R

     17,473

          5,708

             1,796

        9,969

42.9%

TX-10

McCaul

R

     21,485

          6,413

             2,422

     12,649

41.1%

FL-19

Radel

R

     16,433

          3,465

             3,233

        9,735

40.8%

GA-07

Woodall

R

     26,004

          4,838

             5,710

     15,456

40.6%

NV-02

Amodei

R

     19,777

          5,262

             2,593

     11,921

39.7%

NJ-05

Garrett

R

     27,586

          4,010

             6,831

     16,745

39.3%

VA-10

Wolf

R

     28,540

          4,462

             6,481

     17,598

38.3%

AZ-08

Franks

R

     21,795

          5,528

             2,821

     13,447

38.3%

TX-03

Johnson

R

     24,804

          5,202

             4,137

     15,465

37.7%

TX-17

Flores

R

     18,292

          5,288

             1,576

     11,428

37.5%

TX-05

Hensarling

R

     20,604

          5,985

             1,709

     12,910

37.3%

TX-31

Carter

R

     21,300

          5,644

             2,240

     13,416

37.0%

TX-06

Barton

R

     24,287

          5,844

             3,092

     15,352

36.8%

FL-10

Webster

R

     19,875

          3,652

             3,652

     12,572

36.7%

NY-02

King

R

     24,816

          4,865

             4,253

     15,698

36.7%

NJ-11

Frelinghuysen

R

     25,354

          3,063

             6,210

     16,081

36.6%

FL-07

Mica

R

     21,028

          4,180

             3,463

     13,385

36.3%

CO-06

Coffman

R

     23,379

          5,508

             2,949

     14,922

36.2%

TX-13

Thornberry

R

     19,507

          5,888

             1,137

     12,482

36.0%

GA-06

Price

R

     22,909

          3,108

             4,940

     14,861

35.1%

AZ-04

Gosar

R

     18,082

          4,596

             1,725

     11,761

35.0%

TX-12

Granger

R

     20,108

          5,172

             1,835

     13,101

34.8%

TX-14

Weber

R

     20,132

          5,383

             1,632

     13,117

34.8%

Conclusion

Immediately after the 2012 presidential election, many Republican leaders and pundits concluded that Mitt Romney’s position on immigration hurt him with a range of voters, particularly Latinos and Asians.  They consequently argued that immigration reform was not only inevitable but vital to the survival of the Republican Party.  While this philosophy has been embraced by many national leaders, others have argued that this message is less compelling in districts where those voters are not in the majority.  Even if that is the case, the luxury of ignoring immigration reform will not last much longer.  The next generation of voters, even in many districts that are currently homogenous, will be more diverse and more inclined towards supporting a redesign of immigration policy.

This report addresses only one part of the coming wave of electoral change, the role of newly eligible voters in the next election.  It does not address the variety of reasons that other voters—such as conservative business leaders or white, evangelical Christians—are also pushing for immigration reform.  Nor does it address the diversity of opinion among the very groups of immigrants and Asian and Latino youth that we have analyzed.  But it does reflect a cold, hard reality: the country is changing demographically.  How we deal with the implications of that change, including the immigration policy we adopt, will be evaluated by voters.  Representatives contemplating a vote on immigration reform need to weigh the numerous policy arguments in favor of reform and make an informed decision, but they must also understand the demographic dimensions of their district.  Despite the composition of their current voters, U.S. Representatives need to see their electorate not only for what it is, but for what it will be.

Methodology

Age Cohorts by Congressional Districts.  These were tabulated from decennial census files for single years of age by sex for the 113th Congress.  The table below shows how age groups in 2010 are used to estimate the number of persons becoming voting age in 2014 and later years.

Age in 2010

Year When Eligible to Vote

14-15

2014

12-13

2016

10-11

2018

8-9

2020

Estimating Asian and Latino Citizens.  Citizenship estimates for young Asians and Latinos at the state level were calculated by applying citizenship rates from the 2009-2011 American Community Survey to 2010 populations by age cohort.  For congressional districts, statewide age and race-adjusted rates were applied to 2010 age cohorts. 

Defining “Asian.”  Asians are defined to include persons categorized as either Asian or Pacific Islander.

Naturalization Data Are for Adults.  Naturalization data used to estimate citizens newly eligible to vote include adults only.

Estimating Naturalized Citizens.  For states, we estimate naturalizations likely to occur in two-year cycles by using average two-year naturalization numbers for the period 2003-2012, by state, obtained from the Department of Homeland Security.  For congressional districts, we estimate this number by distributing the statewide estimate across districts using naturalized populations by district as reported by the 2011 American Community Survey.

Published On: Tue, Sep 03, 2013 | Download File