At a time when immigration policy has risen to the forefront of the political debate under President Donald Trump, the number of eligible immigrant voters – Hispanic, Asian and others – continues to grow at a rapid pace and is on track to hit a new record in November, according to a Pew Research Center study published Wednesday, based on Census Bureau data.
More than 23 million U.S. immigrants will be eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election, making up roughly one-in-ten of the nation’s overall electorate, the study found. That represents a 93% increase since 2000.
“Many of the administration’s proposed policy changes, such as expanding the U.S.-Mexico border wall and limiting legal immigration, have generated strong, polarized reactions from the public. These proposals may also affect how immigrants see their place in America and the potential role they could play in the 2020 presidential election,” the study states.
By comparison, the U.S.-born eligible voter population grew by only 18% over the same period, from 181 million in 2000 to 215 million in 2020.
- Hispanics account for 34% of all foreign born eligible voters
- 25% of Hispanic eligible voters are foreign born
- Asians are 31% of all immigrant eligible voters
- Immigrants from Mexico make up 16% of foreign-born voters, the largest single group.
- 56% of immigrant voters live in the California, New York, Texas and Florida.
- 21% of California’s 25.9 million eligible voters are foreign born
- Two-thirds have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years
- 63% are proficient in English
The Pew Center attributes its findings to two major demographic developments. Firstly, the nation’s immigrant population exponentially over the last half century, from 9.6 million in 1965 (just 5% of the population) to 45 million immigrants today, accounting for about 13.9% of the population. Secondly, a rising number and share of immigrants living in the U.S. have naturalized in recent years. Between 2009 and 2019, 7.2 million immigrants naturalized and became citizens, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In fiscal year 2018 alone, more than 756,000 immigrants naturalized.
Most immigrant eligible voters are Hispanic or Asian, while the number of white immigrant eligible voters has fallen from 30% to 22%. The number of black immigrant eligible voters has also grown from 7% to 10%, though they still make up the smallest racial and ethnic group.
While U.S.-born voters tend to have a higher turnout (62%) than foreign born voters (54%) that is not the case with Hispanics. About half (53%) of immigrant Hispanic eligible voters cast ballots in 2016, compared with 46% of U.S. born Hispanics.
Immigrants could have a greater impact on the primaries this year since nearly half (46%) of the nation’s immigrant eligible voters live in states with Democratic primaries or caucuses that take place on or before March 3 (Super Tuesday). That is up significantly from 2016 when only 21% of immigrant eligible voters had cast ballots on or before Super Tuesday.
While only half of immigrant voters are eligible in 2020, that is a big increase since 2000 when only 38% were eligible. (Between 2000 and 2018, over 10 million adult immigrants have gained citizenship and become eligible to vote.) However, Hispanics trail Asians, whites and blacks in this regard. Among Hispanic immigrants, fewer than half (38%) are eligible voters, though this is an improvement on 2000, when only about one-quarter of Hispanic immigrants were eligible. By comparison, 61% of white immigrants are eligible voters and 57% of Asians and blacks.
Asians are more likely to naturalize than Hispanics because they entered the country legally, on student or work visas, said Mark Hugo Lopez, one of the authors of the Pew report. "Asians have usually travelled a long way by plane and enter the country at a legal port of entry, rather than coming across border without legal entry documents as many Hispanics do," he said.
Also, studies show many Mexicans in the country legally wait years before applying for citizenship, he said. That was because of the mounting cost of applications, ($725), as well as language barriers and fears of failing the citizenship test. Some 75% of eligible Asian immigrants (from China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines) apply for citizenship, compared to only 40% of eligible Mexicans, he said.
Fastest growing states
Immigrants collectively make up over 15% of eligible voters in California, New Jersey, New York and Florida. In California alone, they make up 21% of eligible voters, the highest of any state. New Jersey (19%), New York (18%) and Florida (16%) have the next highest shares.
Since 2000, Georgia, Minnesota and North Carolina are the states with the fastest growing immigrant eligible voter populations. All three have seen their numbers of immigrant eligible voters nearly triple between 2000 and 2018. Georgia increased by 193% during this time, the nation’s fastest growth. California’s eligible voter population is up 63% since 2000. California, New York and Florida together accounted for 43% of the U.S. immigrant electorate growth between 2000 and 2018.
The states with the largest immigrant voter populations differ in where their immigrant electorates were born. Mexico is the top birth country of immigrant voters in California (1.5 million) and Texas (736,000). In California, Filipino immigrant voters (604,000) and Vietnamese immigrant voters (430,000) are the second- and third-largest groups. Among immigrant eligible voters in Texas, Vietnam (130,000) and India (115,000) are the second- and third-largest birth countries.
The Dominican Republic (264,000) is the top birth country of immigrant eligible voters in New York, while those born in Cuba (606,000) are the largest group of immigrant eligible voters in Florida. In New Jersey, India (122,000) is the top birth country among immigrant voters.