Who Was Eligible to Vote in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election?
Share of racial minorities and Generation Z voters were expected to increase
The composition of the American electorate is always in flux — people turn 18 and become eligible to vote, new citizens are added, and others move away or pass on, changing the demographics of the voting population over time.
For a snapshot of the 2020 electorate, the Pew Research Center analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau across three dimensions — race/ethnicity, age, and gender — to illustrate the likely makeup of the country’s electorate as Americans headed to the polls.
Eligible Voters by Race and Ethnicity
Whites account for a projected 66.7% of eligible voters for the 2020 election, and racial and ethnic minorities account for a third of the electorate, the largest share in any election to date. Immigration is a big reason for this growth: The Center estimates that 1 in 10 eligible voters in 2020 will have been born outside the United States, the highest share since at least 1970.
And in another first, Hispanics will be the largest minority group eligible to vote in a U.S. election. Hispanics were projected to account for more than 13.3% of eligible voters this year, compared to 7.4% in 2000.
The share of eligible Asian voters was also expected to continue its upward trend. In 2020, Asians will account for 4.7% of the electorate, almost doubling the percentage from 20 years ago (2.5%). The number of eligible Black voters was expected to be 12.5%, up slightly from 11.5% in 2000.
Finally, 2.9% of the projected electorate was classified as “other.” This group includes people who identify with more than one racial or ethnic background or who are not represented in the other categories, such as American Indian and Alaska Native, for example.
Eligible Voters by Generation
Many members of America’s newest generation, Generation Z (individuals born after 1996), have turned 18 since the last presidential election. As a result, Gen Z voters were expected to make up 10% of the total electorate — a significant increase from 4% in 2016. Gen Z eligible voters are a more racially and ethnically diverse group than older generations. While a majority (55%) are non-Hispanic White, 22% are Hispanic, compared with 17% of Millennials.
By contrast, many older generations’ shares of the electorate were expected to shrink in 2020. The oldest generations, the Greatest (born before 1928) and the Silent (born 1928-1945), were projected to account for 9% of the electorate, down from 13% in 2016. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) were expected to account for 28%, down from 31% in 2016. The share of eligible Millennial voters (born 1981 to 1996) was expected to shrink by 1 percentage point from 2016 (28%) to 27% in 2020. The Center estimated that Generation X (born 1965-1980) would remain the same at 25%.
Eligible Voters by Gender
This year, 51% of the electorate will likely be women and 49% men. Those projections are similar to the shares of the electorate in 2016: 52% women and 48% men.
Why the Electorate Matters
Electoral demographics many change slowly, but each subtle shift influences how candidates may campaign as well as the potential outcomes of elections.
Demographics “determine potential voting clout,” says Richard Fry, a senior researcher at the Center. For example, older Americans are more focused on health care and Social Security. Younger voters are more focused on student debt relief and the vitality of the job market. As a result, political campaigns will sway their policy agendas toward the groups that have the most members or that are gaining them.
“Parties and campaigns need to go where the votes are,” Fry says.
Of note: The Pew Research Center defines the electorate as all citizens age 18 and older living in the United States. They don’t account for those who have lost their voting rights, such as people convicted of felonies living in certain states, or those who can vote from outside the U.S., such as citizens living abroad and members of the armed forces stationed in other countries.