They are few in number among the voting age population, but recently naturalized U.S. citizens could have the power to help swing certain key states in the election, a new University of Southern California report suggests. And they are especially sensitive to immigration issues.
The report from USC's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration maps out where newly naturalized immigrants are most concentrated. Overall, those naturalized since 2000 make up only 3.6 percent of the voting age population of the United States. But in swing states such as Nevada and Florida, these new citizens make up a larger share, 6 percent and 5.1 percent respectively. From the report:
As it turns out, this group may be critical in a tight election season: naturalized citizens of voting age are just over 8 percent of the voting age citizen population. However, we focus in this brief on an even small group: those naturalized in the last decade.
This is partly because evidence suggests that the recently naturalized may be the most motivated around immigration issues and partly because their registration rates my have the most room for improvement.
Not surprisingly, states like California and New York have the highest percentage of newly naturalized citizens, but Florida and Nevada are not far behind. And Virginia, another swing state, is among those states with the second-highest concentration of newly naturalized Americans, with 3.5 percent of the voting age citizen population having been naturalized since 2000.
Why these potential voters matter: While states with large numbers of naturalized citizens like California and Texas traditionally go in one direction - Democratic and Republican, respectively - it's in swing states where immigrant votes can be critical. This is why, for example, Latino voter outreach could make or break Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Florida, which in recent elections has not leaned as strongly to the right as in the past. (A new poll shows Latinos in both Florida and Nevada favoring President Obama by a wide margin.)
At the same time, newer citizens have historically lower registration rates. How to reach these potential voters and entice more of them to participate? With many having completed the immigration process in the relatively recent past, immigration is a topic they tend to care about, according to the report:
Given what has occurred politically since the last election, including fights about immigration policy in key states, arguments about the so-called "DREAM Act," and discussions about immigrants that have included calls for "self-deportation," it is quite possible that recently naturalized voting age citizens are indeed more likely to be engaged - or to be engage-able by immigrant advocates and others interested in raising registration rates and guaranteeing an immigrant voice in this and other elections.
Interactive maps with details about naturalized voters state-by-state and locally can be found here.