Dec 14, 2019

Axios Deep Dives

This Axios AM Deep Dive — led by immigration and demographics reporter Stef Kight — unpacks the changing demographics of American voters, focusing on the youngest, most racially diverse and well-educated generation.

  • Follow our coverage of the issues and trends that matter in the 2020 elections.
  • Smart Brevity count: 1,097 words, a 4-minute read.
1 big thing: 2020's new voters usher in new America
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Data: Census Bureau 2017 Population projections. (Data includes non-citizens, not eligible to vote.) Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

First-time 2020 voters will usher in a wave of demographic transformation — a remaking of the American identity that's projected to crest in the 2040s, Stef writes.

  • Millions of Generation Z Americans — those born after 1996 —will be able to vote for the first time next year.
  • Why it matters: The 2020 census, redistricting and elections will begin to reveal population changes that will empower new voices and reshuffle the swing-state map and both parties' bases.

In November, for the first time:

  • Americans born after the 9/11 attacks will be voting for a president.
  • Gen Z will surpass the Silent Generation's share of the electorate.
  • Hispanic Americans will surpass African Americans as the largest racial or ethnic minority eligible voting group.

By the numbers: Gen Z will make up one-tenth of the 2020 electorate. Put them together with millennials, and these youngest generations will comprise 37% of eligible voters next year. They are...

  • Less white: 53% of potential first-time voters are non-Hispanic white people — down 11 percentage points from the rest of the voter-aged population.
  • More educated: These first-time voters are also more likely to pursue college and have parents with college degrees.
  • Urban-dwellers: 54% will have been living in or near a central city rather than a rural area, according to IPUMS Census data from 2017. That's up from 44% of millennials when they were that age.

Politically, Gen Zers appear to be "similar to millennials," with "their liberal attitudes and their openness to societal changes," Pew's social trends director Kim Parker told Axios.

2. First-time Latino voters

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Contributor

For the first time in U.S. history, Latinos will be the largest minority ethnic or racial group in the electorate, with 32 million eligible voters, Alexi McCammond writes.

Why it matters: A surge in Latino voters could help Democrats up and down the ballot. But since 1996, most eligible Latino voters have not voted in presidential elections, according to Pew.

  • "The perpetual problem for Democrats in regards to Hispanic voters remains: converting potential votes into actual votes," said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

By the numbers: There are an estimated 15 million to 18 million Latino people in the U.S. who are not registered to vote. Roughly 4 million turned 18 after the 2016 election.

  • But Latino voter participation is growing — 27% who voted in the midterms said it was their first time.
  • Almost half of eligible Latino voters were never even contacted by a political party or candidate, yet 79% voted in 2018, said María Teresa Kumar, founding president and CEO of Voto Latino.
  • 69% cast a ballot for a Democrat.

What to watch: Texas — which Democrats are desperate to turn blue — accounts for 25% (2.5 million) of eligible but unregistered young Latino voters, per Kumar.

3. Campaigns are targeting young voters
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Data: Bully Pulpit Interactive; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Campaigns are using targeted digital platforms to reach younger voters, especially first-time voters, Sara Fischer writes.

  • Facebook has become the primary platform for candidates to spend their political dollars online. The tech giant makes it easy for campaigns to buy ads at scale targeted to different age groups.
  • In total, since March, Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg have collectively spent the largest amount of their Facebook ad budgets targeting Gen Z and millennials online.
  • Joe Biden has focused the least on the youngest voters.

Between the lines: While Facebook and Instagram are both used by people of all ages, its rival app Snapchat reaches a much younger demographic.

  • Trump's campaign and an affiliated PAC have spent a combined $43,955 this year on Snapchat ads — the exact same amount as the Pete Buttigieg's campaign.
  • Many of Buttigieg's ads are targeted specifically toward college students.

The bottom line: Digital advertising makes it easier for candidates to target younger voters at a fraction of the cost of TV ads.

4. Worthy data: Shrinking youth vote
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Data: Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Despite the hype around young Americans' civic activism and their record midterm election turnout in 2018, the voting power of young people is shrinking, Stef writes.

  • On top of young adults being less likely to show up at the polls, the number of people under 25 who are even eligible to vote has fallen, according to a Census data analysis by Brookings Institution's William Frey.
  • Gen Z is a much smaller generation compared to the baby boomers (ages 55–73) or millennials (23–38) — who are typically the kids of boomers.
5. Immigration shapes youngest voters

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

Members of Gen Z are more likely to be in an immigrant family than millennials were at the same age, Stef reports.

  • But they are less likely to be immigrants themselves, making a larger percentage of them automatically eligible to vote at 18.
  • 13.7% of the U.S. population is foreign born — up from 9.7% in 1997, when the first Gen Zer was born. That's an increase of around 17 million immigrants.

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.

6. States where youth are rising

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Afro Newspaper/Gado/Getty Contributor

Young and first-time voters in battleground states will be a key target for 2020 candidates, Ursula Perano writes.

  • What to watch: If Gen Z's surge of interest in issues like gun control and climate change translates into higher turnout rates, it could make all the difference in hotly contested swing states.

In 2018, voter turnout among people ages 18-29 grew from 20% to 36%.

  • Early voting for 18–29 year olds in Texas increased fivefold in the 2018 elections.
  • 18–29 year olds in Nevada also turned out at five times the rate they did in 2014.
  • Youth turnout surged in Florida's midterms, where 37% of 18–29 year olds hit the polls, compared to 22% in 2014.
  • NextGen estimates 80,000 additional 18–35 year olds in Wisconsin turned out in 2018 compared to 2014.

But other states fell short in 2018. Pennsylvania organizers hoped for a historic youth turnout, but only saw incremental gains.

7. 1 school thing: The civics gap

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: William C. Shrout/Getty Contributor

Only 26 states met the standards for a “full curriculum" in civics, according to new research published today by the Center for American Progress, Naomi Shavin reports:

  • 30 states require one semester of a civics course to graduate.
  • Eight others and Washington, D.C., require a full-year course.
  • Only Hawaii requires 1.5 semesters of civics to graduate.
  • Kentucky is the only state without any civics course requirement at all. The state does, however, require high school seniors to pass a civics exam, as do 19 other states.

Why it matters: Many recent graduates will be eligible to vote for the first time in 2020 and an education in civics is linked to higher civic participation — including voting.

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