How A Path To Citizenship For Illegal Immigrants Would Influence The Presidential Election Of 2020

blue texas

There’s a very good reason than many Republicans are horrified at the idea of a “path to citizenship,” which would allow undocumented immigrants to eventually become full-fledged U.S. citizens after completing a series of tasks. 

We’ve put together a projection of what could happen in the 2020 elections if there was a path that allowed all illegal immigrants residing in the United States to gain their citizenship — and for many, the right to vote — by the end of the decade. 

If people who were illegal immigrants in 2010 all embarked on the path to citizenship that made them citizens with voting rights by 2020, the electoral implications would be shocking.

We’re not suggesting that all of these newly minted voters would vote in any specific direction, just that one effect would be an immense amount of uncertainty to the electoral process in several crucial electoral states. 

Some of the key findings:

  • Texas would see an immense shift. Republicans have long relied on the Lone Star State (Mitt Romney had a 15.8 per cent margin of victory in the state in 2012). By our projection, 7.1 per cent of the state’s 2020 voters would be people who were undocumented in 2010. 
  • In Arizona, previously undocumented voters would comprise 6.7 per cent of the electorate in 2020. In 2012, the margin of victory for the GOP was 9 per cent. 
  • Nevada would see one of the most major shifts. A full 7.8 per cent of the electorate would be comprised of previously undocumented voters, exceeding the 2012 margin of victory. 
  • In Florida, previously undocumented voters would comprise 4.9 per cent of the electorate. In 2012, the margin of victory was marginal, less than 1 per cent. Just to the north, Georgia’s electorate would also have 4.9 per cent previously undocumented voters; the 2012 margin of victory there was 7.8 per cent.
  • Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina would also become even more variable. The 2012 margins of victory in those states were 5.3 per cent,  2 per cent. and 3.8 per cent, respectively; according to our 2020 projection, 3.8 per cent, 3.7 per cent, and 2.9 per cent of those states’ respective electorates would be previously undocumented voters.

Again, this isn’t to say that the 2012 elections are a perfect base case for comparison, nor is it to say that every undocumented worker will pursue a path to citizenship, be eligible to vote, or in fact vote. 

The methodology is below. This analysis is a very broad estimate that assumes that all 11.2 million illegal undocumented immigrants in 2010 take a passed path to citizenship and become full-fledged voting citizens by 2020.

There are a number of assumptions — discussed below — but this is designed to serve as a baseline scenario that brings about maximum uncertainty by looking at a maximum addition to the potential electorate.

The GOP has to wrestle with the cost-benefit analysis of an influx of unknown voters into the electorate years down the line. 

Some — like Senators Marco Rubio, John McCain and Rand Paul — have made the gamble that it’s better for the Republican Party to take a role in a bipartisan path to citizenship in the interest of appealing to open-minded undocumented workers who will vote in the future.

Others in the GOP — take Ann Coulter, for instance — call the idea “amnesty” and oppose the plans vehemently. In many ways, it’s a major gamble for the GOP to facilitate an influx of up to 11 million potential voters who are widely considered to disproportionally support Democrats. 


Here’s what we did. The Census has state-by-state projections for the population of each state in 2020, a figure which includes the undocumented immigrants. Using other Census Bureau data, we were able to figure out the 2020 voting age population, the portion of that population will be over the age of 18 in 2020. 

Figuring out the portion of that voting age population that would be comprised of people who were illegal immigrants in 2010 was a little more difficult.

In February 2011 the Pew Hispanic centre published estimates of the numbers of undocumented immigrants in each state for 2010. Next we found out from the Department of Homeland Security that 12 per cent of them were under the age of 18.

Any of those immigrants older than eight years old in 2010 will be 18 or older in 2020. Assuming a uniform distribution, this means that only 5.4 per cent of the immigrants Pew counted in 2010 will be under 18 in 2020, so 94.6 per cent will be part of the voting age population.

Using that estimate, we were able to find the voting age population of people who were illegal immigrants in 2010 for the year 2020. This assumes that the mortality rates and deportation rates are not statistically significant and also that there is little movement (or consistent movement) between the states.  

We now have two sets of numbers. The first is the total voting age population for each state in 2020. The next is an estimate of the voting age population of each state that was undocumented in 2020.

Comparing these, we can estimate what portion of the voting age population would be comprised of (potentially former) illegal immigrants. 

Here’s the full data. Click to enlarge:

illegal immigrant voting age population 2020

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