Power and Potential: The Growing Electoral Clout of New Citizens

Oct 01, 2004 | by
  • Description

Immigrants - and groups in which immigrants are a large percentage of the population, such as Latinos and Asian/Pacific Islanders (APIs) - are a growing portion of the U.S. electorate. In a closely contested presidential race, the growing ranks of "new citizens" - foreign-born individuals who become "naturalized" U.S. citizens - are increasingly important political players. This report uses U.S. Census data from the 1996 and 2000 election years to describe key characteristics of immigrant, Latino, and API voters. The findings include: New Citizens

  • In 2000, there were 10.7 million adult new citizens in the United States, 6.2 million of whom were registered to vote and 5.4 million of whom actually voted.
  • Although new citizens in general have lower rates of voter turnout than natives, new citizens who are registered to vote have higher rates of voter turnout than natives who are registered to vote.
  • In just the four-year period from 1996 to 2000, the number of adult new citizens rose by 30 percent, the number of those registered to vote increased 20 percent, and the number who voted grew by 24.7 percent.
  • New citizens accounted for more than half of the net increase in persons registered to vote between 1996 and 2000.
  • The votes of new citizens are particularly important in "battleground" states - such as Arizona, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Washington- where victory or defeat in an election may be decided by relatively few votes.
  • The percentage of immigrants who were naturalized citizens rose from 37.5 percent in 1996 to 39.7 percent in 2000.

Latinos and Asian/Pacific Islanders

  • In 2000, there were 13.2 million adult, U.S.-citizen Latinos, of whom 7.6 million were registered to vote and 5.9 million actually voted. There were 4.6 million adult, U.S.-citizen APIs, including 2.4 million registered to vote and 2 million who in fact voted.
  • While Latinos and APIs in general have lower rates of voter turnout than non-Latino "Whites," the turnout rates of Latinos and APIs who are registered to vote is close to that of Whites who are registered to vote.
  • The numbers of Latinos and APIs who became U.S. citizens, registered to vote, and actually voted increased substantially between 1996 and 2000. The number of Whites registered to vote declined by 0.5 percent during this period.
  • Latino and API voters accounted for more than a third of all new voters added to the rolls between 1996 and 2000.