The U.S. electorate this year will be the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse ever. Nearly one-in-three eligible voters on Election Day (31%) will be Hispanic, black, Asian or another racial or ethnic minority, up from 29% in 2012. Much of this change is due to strong growth among Hispanic eligible voters, in particular U.S.-born youth.
An analysis of changes in the nation’s eligible voting population – U.S. citizens ages 18 and older – offers a preview of profound U.S. demographic shifts that are projected to continue for decades to come. While the nation’s 156 million non-Hispanic white eligible voters in 2016 far outnumber the 70 million eligible voters that are racial or ethnic minorities, their growth lags that of minority groups. As a result, the non-Hispanic white share of the electorate has fallen from 71% in 2012 to 69%.
There are 10.7 million more eligible voters today than there were in 2012. More than two-thirds of net growth in the U.S. electorate during this time has come from racial and ethnic minorities. Hispanics, blacks, Asians and other minorities had a net increase of 7.5 million eligible voters, compared with a net increase of 3.2 million among non-Hispanic white eligible voters.
The growth among non-Hispanic white eligible voters has been slower than among racial or ethnic minorities in large part because they are overrepresented in deaths due to an aging population. Non-Hispanic whites make up 69% of U.S. eligible voters, but accounted for 76% of all eligible voters who died (6.6 million of 8.7 million) between 2012 and 2016.
Another reason growth has lagged among non-Hispanic white eligible voters is that they’re underrepresented among young people born in the U.S. who turn 18 – the group most responsible for the nation’s growth in eligible voters. Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 57% of the 16 million new eligible voters who turned 18 between 2012 and 2016. By comparison, racial ethnic minorities – who make up 31% of the electorate – accounted for 43% of new eligible voters born in the U.S. who turned 18.
Unlike other groups, most growth in the Asian electorate has come from naturalizations – immigrants becoming U.S. citizens. Since 2012, 60% of new Asian eligible voters have gained the right to vote by this means. By comparison, 26% of new Hispanic eligible voters came from naturalizations during this time.
While the U.S. electorate is growing more diverse, there’s a caveat when it comes to the impact of these changes: the relatively low voter turnout rates among Hispanics and Asians. In the 2012 presidential election, 64% of non-Hispanic white eligible voters cast ballots, as did 67% of black eligible voters. By comparison, the voter turnout rate was 48% among Hispanics and 47% among Asians.