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Immigrant Voters in the 2020 Election: A Surge of Influence

By Olusegun Akinfenwa for The Think Table

The recent presidential election witnessed record-high immigrant voters, with naturalized citizens making up one in ten eligible voters. Immigrants’ electoral sway has become a force to be reckoned with. Just look at how the influence of immigrants has grown: In the 2000 presidential election, there were 12 million immigrant eligible voters. The figure rose to 15.7 million in 2008, 18 million in 2012, 20.6 million in 2016, and 23.2 million in the just concluded 2020 election.

However, because immigrant voters are from various ethnic or racial groups, and have differing political orientations, they will always represent different ideologies with their votes. Issues such as healthcare, economy, schools affect immigrant voting patterns in much the same way as they affect the general population.  But different immigrant groups also vote on the issues that affect their immediate communities the most. This begs the questions: what was the voter turnout for different immigrant groups, what party affiliation did each group strongly represent, and what issues did they advocate for or care about? The performance of the major ethnic or racial groups in the election will help provide insights to these questions.

Latino Voters: With a record 32 million eligible voters, Latinos represented the largest ethnic or racial minority in the U.S. 2020 presidential election. Out of the total Latino votes cast, 66% went to Biden. In a survey conducted between October 23 – November 2 (election eve), 55% of respondents had identified coronavirus pandemic as the most important issue affecting the Latino community. 41% of the respondents said jobs/economy, and 32% went for health care costs. But Latino voters also reflect their different backgrounds: For example, Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American voters in Florida vote with the immediate memory of the authoritarian regimes in their home countries. Mexican-Americans often vote with the immediate experience of poverty and the need to send monies home to loved ones back home.

Black Voters: The number of eligible Black voters, both immigrants and US-born, reached 30 million in 2020, according to data from Pew Research. More than one-third of them reside in nine of the most competitive U.S. states, which are Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Iowa, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Nationwide, eligible black voters represent a total of 12.5% of the U.S. electorates. A look at their political affiliation shows that Black voters favored the Democrats more, as a whopping 87% of Black votes went to the party’s candidate and President-elect Joe Biden. This is by far the highest percentage support Biden received from any demographic group.

Asian Americans: With more than 11 million eligible voters, Asian Americans went to the last polls as the fastest-growing demographic of eligible voters out of the major ethnic, and racial groups. Comparing 2000 and 2020 shows that number of Asian American voters is growing exponentially at 139%. This is because the Asian American community has recorded a surge of foreign-born Americans in recent year – making it the only ethnic or racial group with more naturalized than U.S.-born eligible voters. They also favored the Democrats candidate more, given him 63% of their votes.

The size of the immigrant electorate has nearly doubled since 2000.

Before the polls, the majority of eligible immigrant voters expressed support for the Democrats, and this was clearly seen in the election results. In addition to the more obvious issues of healthcare and the pandemic, jobs and the economy, the restrictive immigration policies of the Trump administration was another issue for many immigrants. As a result, immigrants clearly preferred a change of guard at the White House.

Though the 2020 presidential election has come and gone, it, however, remains a harbinger of what to what to expect in future elections. Immigrant votes will become increasingly more important with every coming election.

In 1980, 80% of the U.S. population was white. The figure has dropped to 63%, and it is projected to be less than 44% in 2060. Also, in 2019, over 843,000 immigrants received U.S. citizenship, compared to around 619,000 in 2010. As of 2016, the combined population share of these foreign-born citizens and their children was 26%, and by 2065, it is projected to reach 36%.

Every election is a game of numbers, and immigrant voters have numbers great enough for the two major political parties to reckon with. The exponential growth in foreign-born Americans will soon give us a new America. This new, diversified America will signal a significant increase in key states with majority-minority populations, thereby requiring new approaches and policies for any candidate who wants to win elections in those states and in the country.


Olusegun Akinfenwa is a political correspondent for ImmiNews, a UK based organization that covers political and social events from around the world.

This article is a contribution to The Think Table.

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