Posted on September 28, 2020

The Changing Racial and Ethnic Composition of the U.S. Electorate

Ruth Igielnik and Abby Budiman, Pew Research, September 23, 2020

In all 50 states, the share of non-Hispanic White eligible voters declined between 2000 and 2018, with 10 states experiencing double-digit drops in the share of White eligible voters. During that same period, Hispanic voters have come to make up increasingly larger shares of the electorate in every state. These gains are particularly large in the Southwestern U.S., where states like Nevada, California and Texas have seen rapid growth in the Hispanic share of the electorate over an 18-year period.

These trends are also particularly notable in battleground states – such as Florida and Arizona – that are likely to be crucial in deciding the 2020 election. In Florida, two-in-ten eligible voters in 2018 were Hispanic, nearly double the share in 2000. And in the emerging battleground state of Arizona, Hispanic adults made up about one-quarter (24%) of all eligible voters in 2018, up 8 percentage points since 2000.


To be sure, the demographic composition of an area does not tell the whole story. Patterns in voter registration and voter turnout vary widely by race and ethnicity, with White adults historically more likely to be registered to vote and to turn out to vote than other racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, every presidential election brings its own unique set of circumstances, from the personal characteristics of the candidates, to the economy, to historic events such as a global pandemic. Still, understanding the changing racial and ethnic composition in key states helps to provide clues for how political winds may shift over time.

Black, Hispanic and Asian registered voters historically lean Democratic

The ways in which these demographic shifts might shape electoral outcomes are closely linked to the distinct partisan preferences of different racial and ethnic groups. Pew Research Center survey data spanning more than two decades shows that the Democratic Party maintains a wide and long-standing advantage among Black, Hispanic and Asian American registered voters. Among White voters, the partisan balance has been generally stable over the past decade, with the Republican Party holding a slight advantage.

National exit polling data tells a similar story to partisan identification, with White voters showing a slight and fairly consistent preference toward Republican candidates in presidential elections over the last 40 years, while Black voters have solidly supported the Democratic contenders. Hispanic voters have also historically been more likely to support Democrats than Republican candidates, though their support has not been as consistent as that of Black voters.


Partisan alignment does not tell the whole story when it comes to voting patterns. Voter turnout rates – or the share of U.S. citizens ages 18 and older who cast a ballot – also vary widely across racial and ethnic groups. White adults historically have had the highest rate of voter turnout: About two-thirds of eligible White adults (65%) voted in the 2016 election. Black adults have also historically had relatively high rates of voter turnout, though typically slightly lower than White adults. There was an exception to this pattern in 2008 and 2012, when Black voter turnout matched or exceeded that of Whites. By contrast, Asian and Hispanic adults have had historically lower voter turnout rates, with about half reporting that they voted in 2016.


{snip} From 2000 to 2018, the nation’s eligible voter population grew from 193.4 million to 233.7 million – an increase of 40.3 million. Voters who are Hispanic, Black, Asian or another race or ethnicity accounted for more than three-quarters (76%) of this growth.


Hispanic eligible voters were notably the largest contributors to the electorate’s rise. They alone accounted for 39% of the overall increase of the nation’s eligible voting population. Hispanic voters made up 13% of the country’s overall electorate in 2018 – nearly doubling from 7% in 2000. {snip}


Despite notable growth in the non-White eligible voter population, non-Hispanic White voters still made up the large majority (67%) of the U.S. electorate in 2018. However, they saw the smallest growth rate out of all racial ethnic groups from 2000 to 2018, causing their share to shrink by nearly 10 percentage points.

Shares of non-Hispanic White eligible voters have declined in all 50 states

The overall decline in the shares of the non-Hispanic White eligible voter population can be observed across all states. (There hasn’t been a decline in the District of Columbia.) While this trend is not new, it is playing out to varying degrees across the country, with some states experiencing particularly significant shifts in the racial and ethnic composition of their electorate.

In total between 2000 and 2018, 10 states saw a 10 percentage point or greater decline in the share of White eligible voters. In Nevada, the White share of the electorate fell 18 percentage points over almost two decades, the largest drop among all 50 states. The decline in the White share of the electorate in Nevada has been fairly steady, with a comparable percentage point decline observed between 2000 and 2010 (10 points) and 2010 and 2018 (8 points). California has experienced a similarly sharp decline in the White share of the electorate, dropping 15 percentage points since 2000. This has resulted in California changing from a majority White electorate in 2000 to a state where White voters were a minority share of the electorate in 2018 (60% in 2000 to 45% in 2018), though they still are the largest racial or ethnic group in the electorate.

Even with declines in all 50 states, White eligible voters still make up the majority of most states’ electorates. In 47 states, over half of eligible voters are White. The only exceptions are California, New Mexico and Hawaii, where White voters account for 45%, 43% and 25% of each respective state’s electorate.


The number of Black eligible voters nationwide grew only slightly in the past 18 years. Even so, Black voters saw the largest percentage point increase out of any other racial and ethnic group in three states in the Southeast: Georgia (5 points), Delaware (4 points) and Mississippi (4 points).

As for Asian eligible voters, they saw robust growth in California (5 percentage points), Nevada and New Jersey (4 points each) between 2000 and 2018. However, their share increases paled in comparison to the Hispanic electorate’s growth in those states. Overall, Asians saw their shares increase in the electorates of every state except Hawaii, where their share dropped by 4 percentage points. Still, Hawaii has the highest percentage of Asians in its electorate – 38% of all eligible voters in the state are Asian.


Demographic changes could continue to reshape the electoral landscape in future elections. While Texas is not currently considered a battleground state, demographic shifts have led some to wonder if the state could become more competitive politically down the road. {snip}