Posted on February 28, 2020

Naturalized Citizens Make Up Record One-in-Ten U.S. Eligible Voters in 2020

Abby Budiman, et al., Pew Research, February 26, 2020

More than 23 million U.S. immigrants will be eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election, making up roughly 10% of the nation’s overall electorate – both record highs, according to Pew Research Center estimates based on Census Bureau data.

The number of immigrant eligible voters has increased steadily over the past 20 years, up 93% since 2000. By comparison, the U.S.-born eligible voter population grew more slowly (by 18%) over the same period, from 181 million in 2000 to 215 million in 2020. {snip}

The nation’s immigrant voters have diverse backgrounds. Most immigrant eligible voters are either Hispanic or Asian, though they hail from countries across the globe. Immigrants from Mexico make up the single largest group, at 16% of foreign-born voters. More than half of all U.S. immigrants (56%) live in the country’s four most populous states: California, New York, Texas and Florida. Two-thirds have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years and 63% are proficient in English.

Growth in the foreign-born eligible voter population reflects two broad U.S. population trends. First, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. has increased steadily since 1965, when the Immigration and Nationality Act became law. Then, the nation’s 9.6 million immigrants made up just 5% of the population. Today, 45 million immigrants live in the country, accounting for about 13.9% of the population. Most are either from Latin America or Asia.

Second, a rising number and share of immigrants living in the U.S. have naturalized in recent years. Between 2009 and 2019, 7.2 million immigrants naturalized and became citizens, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In fiscal year 2018 alone, more than 756,000 immigrants naturalized.


Collectively, Hispanics and Asians make up the majority of immigrants eligible to vote, according to Pew Research Center tabulations of the 2018 American Community Survey, the most recent data available for detailed demographic profiles of eligible voters. At 7.5 million, Hispanics account for 34% of all immigrant eligible voters in 2018, slightly up since 2000. The 6.9 million Asian immigrant eligible voters make up 31% of the foreign-born electorate, also slightly up since 2000.

White immigrant eligible voters (4.8 million) are the third largest racial and ethnic group, making up 22% of the immigrant electorate. However, nearly two decades ago, white immigrants made up 30% of foreign-born eligible voters, a higher share than that of Asians and comparable to that of Hispanics at the time. Today, black immigrant eligible voters (2.3 million) make up the smallest share of the immigrant electorate included in this analysis, though this has grown from 7% in 2000 to 10% in 2018.

Immigrants make up sizable shares of Asian and Hispanic eligible voters

Immigrants make up far higher shares of Asian and Hispanic eligible voters than of white and black voters. Two-thirds (67%) of Asian eligible voters are immigrants, while a quarter of Hispanic eligible voters are immigrants. This somewhat reflects the overall populations of these two groups, as 77% of Asian adults and 46% of Hispanic adults are immigrants.

By contrast, immigrant shares among black eligible voters (8%) and white eligible voters (3%) are far lower. Immigrants are smaller in number among the adult populations of these groups, making up roughly 12% of black adults and 5% of white adults.

Mexican and Filipino immigrants are the largest groups among foreign-born eligible voters

The countries of birth of immigrant eligible voters are varied and highlight the group’s diversity. There are 3.5 million immigrant eligible voters from Mexico, more than from any other country. Fewer immigrant eligible voters were born in the Philippines, India, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Korea, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and El Salvador, in descending order. Including Mexico, these 10 birth countries account for about half of all immigrant eligible voters.

{snip} Filipino eligible voters make up 6% of foreign-born eligible voters but make up 4% of all U.S. immigrants. These gaps in representation among these immigrant populations reflect differences in naturalization rates.

Immigrant voter turnout rates have trailed the U.S. born overall, but not among Latinos and Asians

As immigrant eligible voters have grown in number since 2000, their voter turnout rates in presidential general elections have lagged those of U.S.-born voters. In 2016, 62% of U.S.-born eligible voters cast a vote, compared with 54% of foreign-born voters.

However, this voter turnout pattern is reversed among racial and ethnic groups with the largest numbers of immigrants. Among Hispanic eligible voters in 2016, about half (53%) of immigrants voted, compared with 46% of the U.S. born, a pattern that has persisted since 2000. Among Asian eligible voters in 2016, 52% of immigrants voted, compared with 45% of the U.S. born. By contrast, in 2016 among black eligible voters, the voter turnout rate for immigrants was similar to that of the U.S. born. Meanwhile, U.S.-born white eligible voters have outpaced white foreign-born eligible voters in turnout rates, with the gap widening since the 1990s.