Following the 2012 presidential election, many Republican leaders and pundits concluded that Mitt Romney’s position on immigration hurt him with a range of voters, particularly Latinos and Asians. As a result, senior Republicans began to argue that immigration reform was not only inevitable, but was vital to the survival of the Republican Party. While this philosophy has been embraced by many national leaders, some rank-and-file congressional Republicans in districts where non-Latino white voters are still in the majority have found the argument less compelling.
The luxury of ignoring immigration reform will not last much longer, however. As a new report from Rob Paral and Associates reveals, the next generation of voters, even in many districts that are currently homogenous, will be more diverse and more inclined towards supporting a redesign of immigration policy.
With each upcoming two-year election cycle, the electoral composition of congressional districts changes as younger adults—and the racial/ethnic groups they represent—enter the voting booth. This transformation of the electorate is happening because younger Americans are much more diverse than older Americans. For example:
- Only about 9 percent of U.S. citizens aged 55 years and older are either Asian or Latino. But among citizens turning 18 between the 2012 and 2014 congressional elections, the Asian and Latino share rises to 23 percent.
- Between the 2012 and 2014 elections, almost 1.4 million legal immigrants will acquire the right to vote. Another 1.8 million young Asians and Latinos will be able to vote for the first time.
- The newly eligible Asian, Latino, and immigrant voters will represent 34 percent of persons eligible to vote.
These groups are a large part of the emerging electorate in both Democratic and Republican congressional districts:
- There are 171 congressional districts where naturalized citizens and young Asians and Latinos will comprise at least a third of newly eligible voters in 2014. Fifty-five of the 171 districts are currently represented by a Republican.
As one example, New York’s 11th district is currently 64 percent non-Latino white. But by the 2014 elections, a majority (55 percent) of all newly eligible voters in the 11th district will be persons who are newly naturalized citizens, or U.S.-citizen Asian or Latino youth who are newly eligible to vote.
This story is repeated in Democratic and Republican districts across the country and reflects a larger trend of American racial and ethnic change. Forty years ago, the United States was 83 percent white and 95 percent native-born. Today it is 64 percent white and 87 percent native-born. This demographic transformation is well-documented at national and state levels. However, less attention has been paid to how these changes are affecting congressional districts, particularly within the context of immigration reform.
Historically, young adults have relatively low registration and voting rates, and this may dampen their impact on elections. But they will continue to enter the electorate and grow older—entering age groups that that vote more frequently. And young Asians and Latinos in particular have unique motivations to vote because immigration reform often directly affects their families—often their parents. These young people are also being wooed by both major political parties.
The analysis by Rob Paral and Associates shows that numerous congressional districts have emerging electorates consisting of voters who have many reasons to care deeply about immigration reform. Representatives contemplating their eventual vote on immigration reform need to weigh the numerous policy arguments in favor of reform and make an informed decision, and they must understand the shifting demographic dimensions of their districts. Despite the composition of their current voters, congressional representatives need to see their electorate not only for what it is, but for what it will become.