The Rise & Power of Ethnic Voters: Shaping the Future of American Elections

The Rise & Power of Ethnic Voters: Shaping the Future of American Elections

Editorial credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

By Pearl Phillip

In the realm of American politics, the influence of ethnic voters is becoming increasingly significant as the demographics of the nation evolves. The voices of minorities, people of color, and immigrants are shaping the political landscape in an unprecedented way in the 2024 election cycle. The story of how these communities assert their rights and demand representation is inspiring and pivotal in the narrative of American democracy. There is a shift in political affiliation, a crop of new voters, and more inspiration to register to vote. Young voters in particular will have a profound impact at the ballot this year. Gen Z is more informed and politically active than most older generations but, how will 45% of the new Gen Z voters who are minorities and people of color impact the election? 

Who is the Ethnic Voter?

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The term “ethnic voter” in America typically refers to voters identifying with a specific ethnic group or heritage distinct from the majority population. In the United States, ethnic diversity is significant, and various groups have their own political identities, interests, and voting behaviors and we will focus on Black and Brown Caribbean, South American, and African immigrants.

Overall, the ethnic voter landscape in America is dynamic and multifaceted, shaped by historical experiences, immigration patterns, cultural influences, and socio-economic factors. Political parties and candidates often tailor their messages and policies to appeal to specific ethnic groups to garner support by appearing at cultural activities and places of worship or hosting in-language town halls and sending translated mailers. For example, politicians typically attend the Annual Labor Day Parade Breakfast to appeal to the Caribbean community and participate as grand marshals in the actual parade. 

In many Black communities, churches have historically played a significant role as places of worship and as centers for social and political activism. They often host events such as voter registration drives, candidate forums, and educational seminars to inform their congregations about the importance of voting and to encourage civic engagement.

But, on average, ethnic voters still face a host of challenges in the American political landscape from language barriers, the relationship to politics they had in their home countries being retained after they immigrated, higher levels of poverty and lower levels of education – which can intersect with voting challenges, ID requirements, and discrimination from candidates, elected officials, and where polling places are located to name a few. 

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The Black Vote and Promises

On the night of his victory speech, President Joe Biden emphatically spoke about how the Black vote carried him across the victory threshold and how he wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for them. He told black voters, “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.” Biden will need the Black vote again in 2024 to ensure victory. 

According to CNN exit polling in 2020, Biden won 61% of the Black vote, which made up 56% of the Democratic primary electorate. At an Ethnic Media Services briefing last December, Jamil Scott, Assistant Professor of Government at Georgetown University, emphasized that discussions revolving around promises will play a significant role in the forthcoming presidential election. Scott underscores the importance of Biden showcasing the commitments he has upheld. 

The professor stated: “What has Biden done? He hasn’t kept his promises to Black voters on student loan forgiveness and voting rights. Although he created a record-low unemployment rate for Black Americans and new opportunities for small businesses, and he appointed many Black judges, including Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Jackson. Many of these things that are visible are not necessarily tangible.”

She added, “The question for Black voters in 2024 is not how differently they vote but whether they see it as a moment in which they need to show up for democracy, or whether they’re tired of showing up again and again, and not seeing the policy benefits that they want to see.” 

Growth of Latino Voters

Latino voters have experienced remarkable growth, ranking as the second-fastest expanding demographic in the U.S. electorate since the previous presidential election. In 2024, their numbers are estimated at 36.2 million eligible voters, constituting 50% of the total growth in eligible voters across demographic groups.

Each year, approximately 1.4 million Hispanics in the United States become eligible to vote, contributing to the ongoing rise in their electoral influence.

While former President Donald Trump garnered increased support from Latinos in 2020, most Latino voters (59%) voted for current President Joe Biden, as revealed by a Pew Research Center analysis of validated voters. 

A Deciding Factor – Gen Z Voters of Color

But it’s young voters who will play a crucial role within the demographic of ethnic voters in the United States. Projections indicate that 45% of the 40 million eligible Gen Z voters in 2024 are people of color—8.8 million Latinos, 5.7 million Blacks, 1.7 million Asian Americans, and 1.8 million multiracial. Their influence on electoral outcomes should not be underestimated.

The engagement of young people, people of color, and immigrants is crucial in shaping policy priorities and driving political agendas. They are poised to bring about transformative shifts in the political landscape by embracing the future and actively participating in the electoral process.

Three Gen Z voters shared their perspectives on the upcoming elections: Concerned about the future, Moesha D., who has a degree in political science from Queens College CUNY, said, “As a member of Generation Z stepping into the political arena, I find myself wrestling with a profound sense of duty and a deep-seated frustration. Voting is more than a right; it’s a sacred responsibility that echoes the struggles and triumphs of those who fought to ensure my voice could be heard. It’s a chance to shape the future, to stand up for what I believe in, and to contribute to the democratic process that defines our nation. Yet, as I scan the ballot, my heart sinks. The choices before me often feel like a compromise rather than a reflection of my hopes and dreams for the future. It’s disheartening to cast a vote for candidates who, despite their experience, seem disconnected from the realities and challenges my generation faces.”

Challenges Faced by the Ethnic Voter

Voting for ethnic voters can present several challenges, many of which stem from historical, social, and political contexts. Some of these challenges include:

  1. Voter Suppression: Ethnic minority communities have historically faced barriers to voting, including restrictive voter I.D. laws, gerrymandering, and intimidation tactics. These can disproportionately affect ethnic voters and limit their access to the ballot box.
  2. Language Barriers: Language barriers can pose significant challenges to voting in areas with large ethnic minority populations. Limited English proficiency may make it difficult for some voters to understand ballot measures, candidate information, or voting procedures.
  3. Cultural Differences: Cultural differences may influence how ethnic voters engage with the electoral process. Some communities may have different expectations or understandings of democracy and voting practices, impacting voter turnout and participation.
  4. Socio-economic Factors: Ethnic minority communities often face higher levels of poverty and lower levels of education, which can intersect with voting challenges. Economic barriers such as lack of transportation or inability to take time off work may prevent individuals from voting.
  5. Lack of Representation: In some cases, ethnic minority communities may feel disenfranchised or disengaged from the political process due to a lack of representation in government. When individuals do not see themselves reflected in elected officials or policies, they may be less motivated to participate in elections.
  6. Voter Discrimination: Despite legal protections, ethnic voters may still face discrimination or hostility at polling places. Voter intimidation or harassment can deter individuals from exercising their right to vote.
  7. Political Polarization: Ethnic communities may be divided along political lines, leading to internal tensions and disagreements over voting choices. This polarization can make it challenging for ethnic voters to feel represented by mainstream political parties or candidates.
  8. Lack of Accessible Information: Ethnic minority communities may have limited access to unbiased and accurate information about candidates, issues, and voting procedures. This lack of information can contribute to voter apathy or confusion.

Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts to promote voter education, combat voter suppression tactics, increase the representation of ethnic minorities in politics, and ensure equitable access to the electoral process for all citizens.

Ariel W., a history Major at Brooklyn College, shared a similar sentiment. She said: “The truth is, many of us in Generation Z crave leaders who understand the weight of their decisions, decisions whose consequences they might never have to live with, but we will. We’re not asking for perfection, but for options that resonate with our experiences, struggles, and vision for the world we want to inherit. It’s a tall order, to be sure. But as I fulfill my civic duty, I can’t help but wish for a future where the ballot reflects not just the lesser of two evils but the best of our collective aspirations. After all, we’re not just voting for today; we’re casting our hopes for tomorrow, for a world where our leaders are as diverse, dynamic, and forward-thinking as the generation they seek to represent.”

Gen Z voters are often skeptical of traditional political institutions and parties. They are more likely to identify as independents and prioritize issues and candidates over voting with party loyalty in mind. Many are disillusioned with the political establishment and seek alternative voices and solutions. 

Joseph H., who has a Master of Science in Urban Planning from Columbia University, reflected: “I once harbored skepticism towards the electoral process, doubting the impact of my single vote amidst the vast sea of voices. This sentiment pervaded my conversations with peers as we collectively questioned our influence within a seemingly rigid political framework. However, my perspective shifted radically after witnessing a local election where the district attorney’s race was decided by a slim margin of just 60 votes. This event was a revelation, starkly illustrating the profound impact of individual votes in shaping our immediate social and legal landscape.” 

“This experience transformed my approach to voting, compelling me to advocate for electoral participation among my circle,” he explained. It became clear to him, “that while systemic flaws exist, the act of voting—especially in local elections—holds tangible power to effect change.”

In a recent interview with our People, Power & Politics Radio Show and Podcast, Bertha Lewis, Founder and President of The Black Institute in New York, spoke about how young voters’ point of view when it comes to voting can influence the upcoming elections regarding political engagement and policy priorities. 

Bertha Lewis, Founder & President, The Black Institute. Editorial credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

“I really think that we can’t just go by the old rules. We have to meet the young people where they are. If young people are on social media, we need to put our campaigns on social media,” she noted. She emphasized the need to engage Gen Z voters of color to make it easy for them to participate in political campaigns in addition to more traditional grassroots campaigning like knocking on doors and spending money on television advertising. 

This generation is coming of age during great social and political upheaval, from climate change to social justice movements. Gen Z is notably more engaged in social and political issues than previous generations at their age. 

With their unique perspectives and values, they are expected to influence political agendas and electoral outcomes in the years to come. Their ability to harness technology for mobilization and their inclination towards issues like environmental sustainability, LGBTQ+ rights, and racial justice makes them a crucial demographic for politicians to engage with.

Lewis agreed, saying, “Young people, people of color, ethnic minorities, this is the future of the country and America. What we do and how we engage them determine our policies. Don’t stay home. Don’t just complain about things. We need young people to run for office. Young people of all ethnicities, put yourself up, put yourself out there so that people can see you and vote for you, and you can say, this is what is happening in my life.” 

Lewis also spoke about how critical it is for young people to vote. Historically, minority voter turnout has played a significant role in influencing electoral outcomes and shaping policy decisions. Issues such as education, the environment, economics, and immigration are at the forefront of the agenda for many ethnic voters. The desire for fair representation, access to quality education, environmental justice, and economic equality are driving forces behind the mobilization of minority voters in the upcoming elections.

In the 2024 elections, the power of minority voter turnout cannot be overstated. The intersection of race, ethnicity, and immigration status is reshaping the country’s political dynamics. By actively engaging in the electoral process, young people and ethnic minorities can assert their voices and demand to be heard on critical issues that affect their communities. 

Issues That Matter to the Ethnic Voter

In the run-up to these elections, it becomes increasingly pertinent to examine the array of challenges confronting ethnic voters. From systemic barriers to representation to socio-economic disparities and cultural identity preservation, these issues loom large, shaping the contours of political discourse and the choices made at the ballot box. 

Understanding the concerns of ethnic voters is not just a matter of political expediency; it is a moral imperative in fostering inclusive democratic processes. By engaging with these issues head-on, policymakers and candidates can better address the needs of all citizens, thereby strengthening the fabric of society and ensuring that no voice goes unheard.

Ana María Archila, Co-Director, NY Working Family Party. Editorial credit: Ana María Archila

Ana María Archila, the newly appointed Co-director of the NY Working Family Party, stands as a staunch advocate for immigrant rights, worker justice, LGBTQ rights, and women’s rights. With a notable background in activism, she contested for the position of Lieutenant Governor of New York, amplifying her commitment to progressive causes.  

Archila recognized the burgeoning presence and importance of ethnic voters within the rich tapestry of New York City’s demographic mosaic and articulated a prevailing sentiment of disconnection and neglect among a spectrum of communities, spanning Asian, Latino, Muslim, and Arab American voters ⸺ all of whom share a common feeling of disconnection and neglect from local government.  

Highlighting the political landscape’s nuances, she underscored Trump’s surprising inroads and traction among Latino voters, alongside the Republicans’ notable headway among some Asian American voters. In stark contrast, she lamented the disenchantment with the Democratic Party many Muslim and Arab American voters feel in light of the United States’ response to the recent crisis in the Middle East and increase in Islamophobia. 

In a recent interview with People, Power & Politics Radio Show and Podcast, Archila critiqued both the Democratic and Republican Parties for their lack of understanding the nuances of various ethnic and socioeconomic voting blocs. She said her Working Families Party “wants to be the party where Asian voters, Caribbean voters, Latino voters, Middle Eastern voters, white working-class voters find a home, and young voters find a political home.” 

This story was produced as part of the 2024 Elections Reporting Mentorship, organized by the Center for Community Media and funded by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

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