Dec 14, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Immigration is shaping the youngest generation of voters

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/Stringer

Members of Gen Z are more likely to have immigrant parents than even millennials when they were the same age.

The big picture: Gen Zers were born and are growing up in an era of booming immigration. But they are less likely to be immigrants themselves than millennials were, making a larger percentage of them automatically eligible to vote at 18.

By the numbers: 29% of Gen Z are immigrants or the children of immigrants, compared to 23% of millennials when they were the same age, according to analysis by Pew Research Center's Richard Fry.

  • 13.7% of the total U.S. population is foreign born today — up from 9.7% in 1997, when the first Gen Z-er was born. That's an increase of around 17 million immigrants.
  • The share of immigrants in Generation Z could grow as they get older and reach ages that immigrants would typically come to the U.S. As was the case with millennials, high levels of immigration could grow the youngest generation for decades.

Why it matters: The racial and ethnic diversity of Gen Z, increased by immigration, not only distinguishes the generation, but influences its political and social views, Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Tufts University, told Axios.

  • "Some of the rhetoric of Trump, and the Republican party in general, in recent years is something that's obviously going to sort of turn off not just the young voters who are racial and ethnic minorities, but also people who are growing up with those much more diverse group of peers," he said.

Having an immigrant background also comes with its challenges. Language barriers and intimidation at polls because of race or ethnicity can prevent some from voting.

The big picture: Foreign-born people made up similarly high shares of the population in the late 1800s through the start of the 1900s. But the vast majority of those immigrants came from European nations.

  • After restrictive immigrant quotas were lifted in 1965, immigrants began flocking to the U.S. from Latin American and Asian nations instead.

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