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Immigrant Voting in the United States

November 30, 2016
Edward Trevelyan

In recent decades, immigration has driven population growth more than natural increase. Therefore, it is useful to examine the degree to which immigration status shapes the voting-eligible population, or “electorate.” A new report released today from the U.S. Census Bureau examines a number of generational characteristics, including voting patterns.

The distribution of eligible voters shown in Figure 1 is similar to the total resident population distribution in 2013 (Figure 2), but clearly skewed towards the third-and-higher generation. In other words, the first and second generations’ shares of the electorate are smaller than their shares of the total population. This is because the citizenship requirement limits voting eligibility of many first-generation immigrants and the age requirement disproportionately limits voting eligibility of second-generation immigrants who are more likely to be under age 18 than the third-and-higher generation.

The impact of first- and second-generation immigrant voting is therefore affected by citizenship and age requirements. This impact is further diminished by lower participation rates of eligible first- and second-generation potential voters compared to third-and-higher-generation potential voters (Figure 3). In 2012, first- and second-generation eligible voters were less likely than third-and-higher-generation eligible voters to register or vote.

While these differences of registration and voting rates are not dramatic, they may reflect generational differences in social and economic factors (such as income and education) that are related to the likelihood of voting.

First- and second-generation immigrant populations are growing quickly relative to the third-and-higher generation. Indicators of social mobility are also signaling increased assimilation, as exemplified by high educational attainment among the second generation. These factors, along with new growth in the second generation’s ages 18 to 44 cohort, suggest that immigrant voting will be increasingly relevant to electoral outcomes in years to come.

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