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Eagleton Institute of Politics
Eagleton Institute of Politics


America’s Newest Voters:
Understanding Immigrant and Minority Voting Behavior

Ethnic Breakdown of Citizenry and Ethnic Voter Participation

The influx of immigrants into the United States in recent years has altered the ethnic and racial makeup of every state in the union. Some states have been more affected by foreign migration than others. Table 1 documents the ethnic breakdown of each state and of the nation as a whole. Although all states have been touched by the influx of immigrants into the country, those states that play an important role in elections have been disproportionately affected. For example, the percentage of Hispanics or Latinos residing in the electorally important states of California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas exceeds the percentage of Hispanics or Latinos at the national level (12.5%). In some instances, the difference is dramatic – over 30% of the population in both California and Texas is Hispanic or Latino. The political importance of Latinos is highlighted in Tables 2 and 3. These tables indicate that the largest Latino cities and counties are located in states rich in electoral college votes - Texas, California, Florida, and Illinois. The projected population growth of Latinos documented in Table 4 demonstrates that Latinos are the dominant minority group.

The effects of immigration on voting behavior are of particular interest to observers of elections. To what extent do members of the minority and immigrant community take part in politics? Traditionally, voter turnout among minorities (African Americans and Latinos in particular) has fallen behind participation by whites. It is important to note, however, that ethnicity alone does not account for a lack of participation. When such socioeconomic factors as education and income are controlled for, the racial differences between voters are nonexistent (Verba and Nie 1972; Verba, Schlozman, Brady, and Nie 1993; Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995; Leighley and Vedlitz 1999; Schlozman 2002, p. 444). Tables 5 through 8 document participation among the ethnic population. The low rates of voter turnout among Hispanic citizens compared to whites and African Americans are noteworthy. The discrepancies in participation within the Hispanic and Latino community are also of interest. For example, Cuban Americans voted in much higher percentages in 2000 than Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Central Americans. The reasons behind these differences in voting behavior continue to be the object of study.

Tables 9 through 14 document the voting behavior of minorities in politically important states and counties. Again, they show that Latino citizens are less likely to vote than African Americans and whites. Upon examination, these tables suggest that the outlook on minority voter participation is not entirely bleak. For example, voter participation among young African Americans in 2000 was quite strong compared to other young citizens. Tables 9 through 14 indicate that the participation rates of African Americans ages 18-30 exceeded those of white youths in 2000. The voter participation of minorities in Illinois also demonstrates the potential strength of these voting blocs. In several instances, rates of participation in Illinois and Chicago far exceeded national averages. For example, Table 9 shows that voter turnout rates of young African Americans in Illinois exceeded the national average by over 20 points. The high rates of turnout in Illinois among minorities in particular and the state’s citizens in general can be attributed most likely to extensive voter mobilization campaigns by interest groups. Organized labor and minority groups spent a considerable amount of time and money mobilizing voters in Illinois and other battleground states (Dreazen 2000).

Also of interest are the political inclinations of minorities and foreign immigrants. As stated in the discussion of party strength and interparty competition, the Democratic Party has received strong and consistent support from the African American population since the time of the New Deal. Although the link between the Democratic Party and African Americans remains, there are some indications that this bond is weakening. Tables 15 and 16 present this evidence. These tables demonstrate that support for the Republican Party among African Americans is strong, and in some cases, increasing. Table 15 shows that, among African Americans ages 18-25, 21% identify themselves as Independents and 27% identify themselves as Republicans. Table 16 demonstrates that support for the Republican Party has been trending upwards for younger African American voters as well as those ages 26-35. Tables 17 through 21 document the political inclinations of Asian Americans. These data suggest that, like African Americans, Asian Americans are more supportive of Democratic candidates than Republican candidates. Also like other ethnic groups, the political participation of Asian Americans (with the exception of Japanese citizens) is not dependable.