Image for Demographic Shifts in Electorate May Affect 2020 Election

As the 2020 election moves closer, Pew Research data shows the US electorate will be distinctly different with non-white voters accounting for a third of eligible voters and Generation Z members representing 10 percent. Pew says Millennials and older voters will be a smaller share of the voter pool than in 2016. 

Whether those shifts tilt the outcome toward Republicans or Democrats is anyone’s guess and, in the end, a function of voter turnout. Of course, that won’t stop speculation.

According to Pew, for the first time Hispanics will be the largest racial of ethnic minority in the electorate, with 13 percent of eligible voters. While the percentage of Hispanic voters has risen sharply from just 7 percent in the 2000 election, African-American voter registration has remained fairly constant at around 12 percent. Put in numerical terms, that means there could be 32 million Hispanic voters compared to 30 million African-Americans.

Pew predicts estimated Asian-Americans will reach 5 percent of the electorate or 11 million voters, more than double the number of eligible voters in 2000. All told, 33 percent of 2020 voters will be non-white. One in 10 voters will have been born outside the United States.

Generational shifts also will be significant in 2020, Pew says. Adults 65 or older will make up 23 percent of the 2020 electorate, reflecting the maturing of Baby Boomers and longer life expectancies. But older adults (56 and older) will only represent 40 percent of eligible voters. As recently as 2000, Boomers and older adults accounted for nearly 70 percent of the electorate.

Millennials (23-39) also will represent a smaller percentage of the 2020 electorate. Their numbers have grown, but largely due to naturalized citizens in their age cohort.

Generation Z (18-23) will comprise 10 percent of 2020 eligible voters, up from 4 percent in 2016, when many in this age group were too young to vote. Pew says in 2020 Gen Z voters will be 55 percent white and 45 percent nonwhite, including 21 percent Hispanic, 14 percent African-American and 4 percent Asian or Pacific Islander. The Boomer and older adult voter cohort is roughly three-quarters white. 

Election results rarely reflect national demographics because minority populations are not evenly divided across the country and because district boundaries are often drawn to create favorable electorates for one party or the other. Studies have shown gerrymandering has resulted in fewer swing congressional districts.

Voter turnout is also a critical factor. In the 2016 national election, Boomers and older adults represented 43 percent of eligible voters, but cast 49 percent of the ballots.

FiveThirtyEight says the 2020 voter demographics tend to favor Democrats, but that may not change the Electoral College results in the presidential race. The combination of more college graduates and non-white voters benefits Democrats, but white working-class voters still are the key to winning in battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Political experts are looking for a huge turnout next fall, largely because of intensified polarization, driven by issues such as health care, climate change, terrorism, immigration, gun violence and, more recently, foreign interference in US election and presidential impeachment. Issues such as free college tuition, legalized marijuana and crime affect voter generations very differently.