The changing demographics of the American electorate are becoming a widely accepted fact, particularly among political strategists. Latinos are the fastest growing voting bloc, and minorities are expected to make up almost a third of voters in 2016. Many states are projected to become “majority-minority” by 2050. On Tuesday, minority and immigrant voting power was already flexing its muscles in several key races.
New York City
Bill De Blasio (D) swept the mayoral race Tuesday night, after focusing his campaign on ending rampant income inequality and police harassment of minorities. Immigrants played a large role in his victory. Latinos, who make up a fourth of the city’s population, voted for De Blasio by 85 percent. New York City also has the largest number of foreign-born voters of any American city — three in ten New York voters are likely immigrants.
In crafting his pro-immigrant reputation, De Blasio created a translation service and educational outreach program for foreign-born voters as Public Advocate, denounced the abuse of immigrants in detention centers, and promised to create a city ID card for undocumented immigrants in early 2014.
Immigrants may have tipped the balance to Terry McAuliffe (D) in his tight race against Ken Cuccinelli. Virginia’s foreign-born population exploded between 2000 and 2011 by 58 percent, and about 45 percent of those immigrants were eligible voters as of 2010. Exit polls from Tuesday night found that Latinos and Asians overwhelmingly voted Democrat, with McAuliffe winning 66 percent of the Latino vote and 63 percent of the Asian vote. What’s more, 53 percent of Latinos and 46 percent of Asians said immigration issues were the most or one of the most important factors in their decision.
Some Latino voters told the Washington Post they specifically turned out to vote for McAuliffe because they felt that Cuccinelli is anti-immigrant. Despite a last-minute attempt to soften his tone, Cuccinelli long ago alienated many minority voters by comparing immigrants to rats and trying to revoke citizenship of children with undocumented parents. McAuliffe, meanwhile, has vowed to sign a state version of the DREAM Act.
Newly re-elected Gov. Chris Christie (R) made minority outreach a cornerstone of his campaign, and it seems to have worked: he won about half of Latino voters, more than his Democratic opponent Barbara Buono. Christie was wise to play up an immigrant-friendly image, as more than 1 in 4 New Jersey residents are Latino or Asian. About 19 percent of registered voters in 2008 were “New Americans” (either naturalized citizens or U.S.-born children of immigrants), while the state’s foreign-born population shot up to 21.5 percent in 2011 from 12.5 percent in 1990.
Christie, while backing a Senate candidate who tried to tank immigration reform, was outspoken about minority rights on the campaign trail. He has denigrated racial profiling of Muslim Americans and supports immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented residents. In one of the final debates, Christie announced his support for tuition equality for undocumented students in New Jersey.
Minority influence will likely only grow stronger over the next few years. However, many of these communities are still plagued by low turn-out. Voter suppression efforts that imperil minority voting power, such as voter ID laws, voter purges, and gerrymandered district maps, are being used by Republicans as an alternative to minority outreach. Studies show voter ID laws hurt young minorities the most, and discourage millions of Latinos from voting.