Skip to Content

2018’s Swing Districts Are More Diverse—and That Could Tip the Election

The prevailing narrative coming out of the 2016 election was the power of the white working-class vote. Yet the postmortem after the midterms this week could tell a very different story. That’s because in many of the districts with this year’s closest races, demographic change has led to a much more diverse electorate, even in just the last two years.

That change could have a significant impact on the 2018 midterm election.

Take incumbent Republican Rep. Will Hurd’s situation in Texas’s 23rd district. Hurd won by fewer than 4,000 votes in 2016. Over the last two years, his district has added more than 17,000 Hispanic voters. Not surprisingly, he has been a champion for immigration reform, an important issue for many Hispanic voters. This year, he cosponsored a bill with Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar that would protect Dreamers from deportation and create a plan to secure the border, and even went up against GOP leadership to try and push it through.

A similar story is unfolding in Arizona’s 1st district, where Democratic incumbent Rep. Tom O’Halleran faces Republican Wendy Rogers in a Republican-leaning district he narrowly carried two years ago. Since 2016, the district has seen an increase of more than 16,000 Hispanic and Asian American voters, and O’Halleran has aggressively pursued these new voters as a means to hold on to a district where there are more voters of the other party. Like Hurd, O’Halleran has championed the immigration issue, speaking out aggressively against the president’s travel ban and in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.

These numbers don’t point to which party will win. Past election data shows that minority voters are not beholden to any one party, and there are many factors besides demographics that will decide 2018’s races. Rather, they illustrate that in such tight races, candidates cannot afford to ignore the increasingly diverse pool of voters they seek to represent.

This year’s most competitive districts range from highly educated suburban districts, to districts on the border, to rural districts predominated by farms and ranches. But significant demographic change is happening in almost all of them. New research from the bipartisan immigration reform organization I run, New American Economy, shows that in the 45 House districts that are most evenly split between Republicans and Democrats (according to the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index), all but one have seen their share of white voters decline over the last two years. Similarly, in 44 of these 45 districts, the Hispanic, Asian American, or foreign-born share of the electorate (or a combination of the three) has increased.

Immigrants, newly eligible to vote because they are either citizens turning 18 or are naturalizing, will play an increasingly important role in elections. Of the districts analyzed by New American Economy, 34 have seen an increase in their immigrant voter population just since 2016. And much of that increase is happening in the same districts where the white vote is declining the fastest. In the 20 districts where the white vote is decreasing most rapidly, more than 114,000 foreign-born residents will have either naturalized or turned 18 between 2016 and 2018. By 2020, nearly a quarter of a million immigrants will be newly eligible to vote in those 20 districts alone.

These trends will only continue in future election cycles. In the 45 districts analyzed by New American Economy, more than 590,000 new Hispanic and Asian American eligible voters will join the electorate by 2020.

It’s unclear how these new voters will cast their ballots. But as demographic change in America continues, these voters will increasingly hold the power to decide who represents them in Washington—and who controls the agenda in Congress.

Jeremy Robbins is the executive director of New American Economy.