The 2020 electorate includes a record number of naturalized citizens, and Democrats are hoping to flip swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania into their control this November. Roll Call recently pointed out the impact newly naturalized citizens will have in 2020, noting that First Generation immigrants make up as much as 10% of the electorate. Using the United States Census naturalization tables and accounting for newly naturalized children and possible delays due to the corona virus, the estimate is between 9.5% and 10% of the electorate.
There is evidence the First Generation political impact could be substantial in the 2020 election and beyond. Naturalization tends to spike during election years as new immigrants prepare to become American citizens. What’s more, the largest groups of newly naturalized immigrants – Hispanics and Asians – tend to vote at higher levels than native-born Hispanics and Asians according to the Pew Research Center. While immigrants make up an increasing share of the electorate in 2020, several studies challenge the idea that this will help Democrats.
Market Research Foundation’s nationwide survey of 1,751 First Generation Americans from across Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Canada, and South America, found a majority self-identity as moderate or conservative. What’s more, the fastest growing immigrant group – Asian Americans – is one of the most politically engaged, and their support for Democrats dropped precipitously between the 2012 election and the 2016 election. Finally, unlike among the natural born electorate, higher educational attainment among First Generation Americans is negatively correlated with support for Democrats.
Higher Educational Attainment is Linked to Lower Support for Democrats
In 2018, Market Research Foundation identified a growing education-political trend in favor of Republicans among First Generation Americans. Our survey found the less education an individual had achieved, the more likely they were to have voted for Clinton in 2016. Conversely, the more education an individual had achieved, the more likely they were to have voted for Trump. This is an interesting trend in that it is the opposite for native born voters.
While nationally Clinton’s total share of First Generation voters was higher than Trump’s, higher educated immigrants were significantly less likely to support her compared to lower educated immigrants. Clinton received 69% of the vote among immigrants with a high school education or less, but that dropped to 56% among those with a college degree and just 48% for those with some college. In contrast, only 23% of immigrants with a high school education or less supported Trump, and his share of support rose to 34% among those with college degrees and peaked at 42% among those with some college. Trump’s approval rating was also higher among those with some college or a college degree than among those with a high school education or less. Thirty-five percent of respondents with some college or a college degree approved of Trump in the survey, compared to 28% of those with a high school education or less.
Positive views of the Republican Party were also higher among first generation immigrants with higher levels of educational attainment. Thirty-one percent of respondents with some college and 30% of respondents with a college degree approved of the Republican Party, compared to 26% of those with a high school education or less.
Simultaneously, negative views of the Democrat Party were higher among immigrants with higher levels of educational attainment. Thirty-eight percent of voters with some college and 34% of voters with a college degree disapproved of the Democrat Party, compared to just 19% of those with a high school education or less.
First Generation Immigrants are largely Moderates and Conservatives on Economy and Healthcare – Especially in Florida
As the corona virus throws the country into an economic-health crisis, Democrats looking to capitalize on immigrant voters in prized swing states like Florida could face an uphill battle. Market Research Foundation’s First Generation survey found that a majority of Florida immigrants are conservatives or moderates on healthcare and the economy.
Forty-one percent of First Generation Floridians identify as moderates on healthcare, while 29% identify as liberal, and 30% identify as conservative. Taken as a whole, 71% of Florida immigrants reject liberal healthcare policies as shown below.
The same survey found leftwing economic policies don’t win over Florida immigrants either. Florida immigrants represent 30% of self-employed individuals in the state, and unsurprisingly a majority do not embrace the far-left economic policies Democrats increasingly advocate. As shown below, a full 34% of Florida immigrants consider themselves conservative, and equal shares consider themselves liberal and moderate (33% in both cases). Taken as a group, 67% of Florida immigrants do not consider themselves liberal, on economic issues as shown below.
Chinese Americans Surpass Other Groups, and Their Support for Democrats Dropped Between 2012 and 2016
First generation immigrants from Asia are the fastest growing immigrant group in the U.S. according to Pew, and while they account for about 4% of voters, their concentrations in key swing seats this election should put them on the GOP’s radar. But there is longer-term importance to securing Asian American support for conservative policy positions. Asian-Americans are projected to become the largest immigrant group in the country, surpassing Hispanics, by 2055.
MRF’s comprehensive survey of First Generation immigrants included newcomers from South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Central Asia. Our research found that Central Asians in particular are open to conservative messages and a significant majority identify as moderates and independents. Among Central Asians, 55% identify as conservative on economic issues, 27% identify as moderates, and just 17% identify as liberals. Among South/Southeast Asians, 50% of respondents identify as moderates on economic issues, while 25% identify as liberals and 24% identify as conservatives.
We also found 15% of South/Southeast Asians identify as Republicans, and 54% identify as Independents, while 27% identify as Democrats. Among Central Asians, a full 44% identify as Republican, 37% identify as Independent, and just 19% identify as Democrats.
Chinese Americans make up the largest share of Asian voters, and their support for Democrats dropped between 2012 and 2016 according to the National Asian American Survey.
Obama won 81% of Chinese Americans in 2012, but that dropped to 73% for Clinton in 2016. There was significant deviation in Trump support by nation of origin in the 2016 election. Trump secured the highest levels of support from Vietnamese Americans, 33% of whom voted for him. Trump did significantly better with foreign-born naturalized Asian voters in 2016, compared to native-born Asians voters. While he won just 8% of native-born Asians to Clinton’s 88%, among foreign-born naturalized Asian voters Trump won 22% to Clinton’s 77% according to a comprehensive analysis by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
In the 2014 midterms, Republicans fared better, with 50% of Asian Americans indicating on the National Election Pool exit poll that they voted for a Republican and 49% indicating they voted for a Democrat.
The vast majority of immigrants are moderates or conservatives and Democrats are losing support form the most rapidly growing immigrant group, Asian Americans. First Generation Americans are a growing share of the electorate, but this does not make them default Democrats. The data shows naturalized voters turn political conventions upside down, showing higher political engagement than natural-born groups, and taking a more critical view of the Democrat Party as education increases.