In New York City, Immigrants Swell the Ranks of First-Time Voters

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

Over forty percent of first-time New York City voters in this presidential election were foreign born, according to a study released by the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC).

“Immigrants continue to swell the ranks of first-time voters in New York City and remain a driving force in the growth of the city’s electorate,” wrote the authors of the 2008 New Americans Exit Poll, professors Lorraine C. Minnite of Barnard College and John Mollenkopf, the director of the Graduate Center for Urban Studies at the City University of New York.

Immigrants were 41.1 percent of those voting for the first time. This continued a trend from the three previous presidential elections, when at least three in ten of immigrant voters were voting for the first time, according to the study.

Among foreign-born voters, a large proportion became citizens only recently. Nearly 18 percent achieved citizenship during the last two years, and an additional 25 percent had done so between 2000 and 2005.

The recent surge in naturalizations has been linked to the fractious immigration debate that started in 2006 when Congress took up the issue of comprehensive reform, but failed to pass a reform bill. The coalition’s figures seem to support that connection.

“We are honored to be part of another milestone — the record-breaking turnout of immigrant voters (many voting for the first time), who are infusing our democracy with fresh energy and vigor,” NYIC executive director Chung-Wha Hong said in a statement.

But while the immigrant vote is helping the city’s electorate grow, overall turnout increased only slightly from four years ago, The New York Times reported yesterday. NYIC said the increase was led by black and Latino-majority districts — white-majority areas saw a slight decrease.

Latino neighborhoods showed a five percent increase in voters and wide support for Obama: about nine out of every ten Hispanics voted for the Democrat. Latinos were also 36 percent of first-time voters in the city.

Other findings of the study:

  • New York City voters showed a positive attitude towards immigration, with 34 percent favoring an increase in the number of legal immigrants.
  • Immigrants and the U.S. born shared the same concerns: jobs and the economy were the top issue in deciding their votes.
  • A majority of both groups (over 55 percent) opposed extending the city’s term-limits law.
  • The campaigns did a poor job of contacting immigrant voters, who were reached by parties and political campaigns at half the rate of U.S.-born voters.
AboutDiego Graglia
Diego Graglia is a bilingual multimedia journalist who has worked at major media outlets in the U.S. and Latin America. He is currently the editor-in-chief at Expansion, Meixco’s leading business magazine.