New Americans and young voters to play growing role

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Primary season is over, party conventions loom, and the general election will follow in November.  New Americans and young voters may play pivotal roles in certain states and Congressional districts.

According to a Pew study, “An estimated 69.2 million Millennials (adults ages 18-35 in 2016) were voting-age U.S. citizens … 31 percent of the voting-eligible population.”  Yet actual “young-adult turnout depends on … the candidates, the success of voter mobilization efforts,” and other issues.

The same could be said regarding older voters, including those in “Generation X” (ages 36-51) – such as my wife, Sahar Usmani-Brown, who remained a citizen of India until January 2016.  As a new U.S. citizen, she seized her first opportunity to vote April 26, when Connecticut held primaries.

Our region resembles the nation at large.  Economist Jed Kolko “calculated how demographically similar each U.S. metropolitan area is to the U.S. overall, based on age, educational attainment, and race and ethnicity…. The metropolitan area that looks most like the U.S. is New Haven,” while “the states that look demographically most similar to America are Illinois and New York, followed by New Jersey, Connecticut and Virginia.”

In Connecticut as elsewhere, the primaries created a surge of interest and new voter registrations.  According to an April 20 article, in this state of 3.6 million people, nearly 2 million were registered to vote.  Already by April, there had been “more than 76,000 new registrations” in 2016.  Roughly “half of those are people under 30…. About half of the new voter registrations this year came from online.”

One new American and new voter, Sahar Usmani-Brown, with her ballot in New Haven on April 26

One new American and new voter, Sahar Usmani-Brown, with her ballot in New Haven on April 26

Many of the new voters are also new citizens.  NPR reports, “There are about 9 million … legal permanent residents … eligible to become citizens…. Applications tend to spike in election years. But this year, there’s also been an intense push by immigrant groups because of Trump.”

Partly as a result, according to the Pew Research Center, 12 percent of the electorate is expected to be Hispanic this year.  Latino/a voters (who are also disproportionately young) could make the difference in swing states such as Florida, Colorado, and Nevada.

Latino/a immigrants and those from Muslim backgrounds are among the new voters.  Some are even preparing to run for office themselves, for example through the New American Leaders Project.

The Indian American voting population continues to grow substantially, albeit from a relatively low number in most states.  (While it is hard to obtain much data on Indian American voters specifically, there is some information on the broader category of “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”)  The White House reports 16.6 million AAPIs (about 5.4 percent of the U.S. population) – “one of the fastest growing racial groups in the U.S.,” forecast to be nearly 10 percent of the population by 2050.

According to June 2016 Census data, the U.S. “Asian population totaled 21 million as of July 1, 2015,” up 3.4 percent in a year, “due largely to net migration…. Asians were the fastest growing race group.”  Further, “Those who identify as two or more races had a total population of 8.2 million, up 3.1 percent from 2014. This was the second-fastest growing race group … primarily due to natural increase.”  Those identifying as two or more races “had the youngest median age,” at 20.

WNPR’s Where We Live program recently devoted a segment to Asian Americans and “race, politics, and stereotyping,” including in Connecticut.  As the program noted, three members of our state’s legislature are Asian Americans, one of whom – Prasad Srinivasan, a Republican – was born in India, as my wife was.

So far, two Indian Americans have been elected as state governors: “Bobby” Jindal in Louisiana and “Nikki” Haley in South Carolina; both are Republicans.  An Indian American far to their left ideologically, Pramila Jayapal, is a candidate for Congress from the state of Washington.  Also on the West Coast, a woman who is both Indian American and Jamaican American (her mother from India and her father from the Caribbean), Kamala Harris, has already been elected attorney general of California and is now a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Such developments reflect a country that, evidently to the dismay of many Donald Trump supporters, is changing demographically.  To what degree the changes will be felt this November – in statehouses, Congress, and the White House – remains to be seen.

Josiah H. Brown lives in New Haven.  His prior viewpoints have addressed topics from history and civics to refugees and immigration, interfaith relations, and holidays of various cultures.

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