The Rising American Electorate

Driving Population Growth, Significantly Under-registered and Underrepresented in Electorate, Hurt by New Voting Rules and Restrictions

The Unprecedented Growth of the Rising American Electorate

According to the latest Census data, the Rising American Electorate or RAE (unmarried women, African Americans, Latinos, other people of color and millennials) is overwhelmingly responsible for the recent growth in the U.S. population:

  • The RAE accounted for 82 percent of the growth between 2000 and 2014 and a jaw-dropping 88 percent between 2012 and 2014.
  • Unmarried women and Latinos drove the explosive growth of the RAE in the last decade, both growing by 12 million between 2000 and 2014.
  • These two factors—the stunning growth in the RAE as a whole and the particular growth of unmarried women and Latinos—are critically important to note because:
  • Marital status is a major determinant of participation; unmarried women register and turn out to vote at lower rates than married women.
  • While the groups in the RAE are the most under-represented groups in the electorate, they make up the new majority in this country and their views are not being represented by their elected leaders.

In 2014, more than 75 million members of the Rising American Electorate did not vote. Clearly, too many people are still standing on the sidelines of our democracy. More than episodic registration, education and outreach efforts must be made to boost their engagement, participation and representation. The VPC knows from its research that the greatest reason the RAE cites for not participating is lack of information on the candidates and policy debates on issues of importance to the RAE. Provide information and greater citizenship follows.

This is especially true in a rapidly changing voting environment. The ways Americans register and vote have changed dramatically (by mail, online, and early voting in-person, for example), and new voter requirements have been imposed in many states. The need to provide the RAE with information about these changes gives the work of the VPC added urgency.

The Rising American Electorate: Significantly Under-Registered

Large percentages of the groups that make up the RAE are not registered to vote. As of 2012:

  • 31 percent of unmarried women who are eligible are not registered, representing 28 percent of all unregistered citizens.
  • 42 percent of young people between 18 and 29 who are eligible are not registered, representing 31 percent of all unregistered citizens.
  • 27 percent of African Americans who are eligible are not registered, representing 12 percent of all unregistered citizens.
  • 41 percent of Latinos who are eligible are not registered, representing 16 percent of all unregistered citizens.

The critical first step toward increasing the civic engagement of these groups is registration. In a presidential election year, for every one voter in the RAE who was registered and did not vote, there were four who were unregistered and therefore could not vote.

The RAE share of the electorate tells the same story. In presidential election years and off, unmarried women and the RAE continue to be significantly less than their share of the voting eligible population.

The Changing Voting Environment: The Need for More and Ongoing RAE Outreach

The voting environment is changing dramatically – in terms of how RAE voters cast their ballots, receive information and ensure they are qualified to vote in states that have imposed new voting requirements.

  • Estimates indicate that about 25 percent of 2014 votes were cast by mail or in early voting locations, and non-Election Day voting continues to grow rapidly.
  • Some states and counties are moving to all-mail elections.
  • Other states are imposing new voter-identification requirements that make voting more complicated and difficult, especially for the RAE, who are not traditionally engaged in the public or political debate. The most common new requirement, that citizens obtain and display unexpired government-issued photo identification before being allowed to vote, is becoming widespread. As of 2014, new voting restrictions were set to be in place in 22 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. That means that nearly half the country could find it harder to cast a ballot.  Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 7 have new restrictions in place, the Brennan Center reported in 2014. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 9 passed laws making it harder to vote. The VPC must run programs to inform voters of the changes in these laws while providing them with ways to ensure their vote is easily exercised and protected.

This rapidly changing operating environment demands an extensive and ongoing commitment to educate the RAE about these new developments and changes in voting technologies, timing and requirements.

To that end, the VPC is implementing ambitious registration, turnout and voter-education programs, developing pioneering models and other tools, and establishing partnerships with state and national groups to increase the reach and efficiency of RAE contact and mobilization efforts.