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People of color will make up 31 percent of 2016's eligible voters — the largest percentage ever

Voters of color at the 2016 Brown and Black Democratic Forum.
Voters of color at the 2016 Brown and Black Democratic Forum.
Fernando Leon/Getty Images

With Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders closing out the Iowa caucuses in a virtual tie and Ted Cruz putting Donald Trump to shame with Marco Rubio in a close third, whoever wins the 2016 election will break the mold of presidents past.

But a new study shows the face of the electorate is changing, too.

According to Pew Research Center, this year’s election will be decided by the most racially and ethnically diverse body of voters in US history, with people of color representing 31 percent of eligible voters in November.

The voters in the 2016 election will be the most diverse ever.
The voters in the 2016 election will be the most diverse ever.
Pew Research Center

There are a few reasons for this shift, one being the growing number of Latino voters, making them one of the most influential voting blocks — ironic with the persistent anti-immigrant (and veiled anti-Latino) rhetoric from some conservative candidates.

In 2000, about 7 percent of US voters were Latino. By 2012 that number had climbed to 10 percent, and it's projected to hit 12 percent this year. In other words, Latinos will have the same weight as black voters who have consistently represented 12 percent of the electorate over the same period.

This is largely because millennial voters (those ages 18 to 35) have a larger share of Latinos than older groups of voters.

Among Latino voters, 26 percent are Generation Xers and 22 percent are baby boomers. Roughly 44 percent of Latino voters in the US are under 35.

However, these numbers don't capture overall representation since they don't account for individuals of mixed races. For example, among Latinos in general, 12.1 to 16.7 percent identify as multiracial, depending on the framing.

Meanwhile, the number of white voters is relatively stagnant.

There are still 156 million white voters in the US, and 70 million voters of color. But whites are underrepresented among new voters. Between 2012 and 2016, new white voters only increased by 2 percent, while Asian voters increased by 16 percent and Latino voters by 17 percent.

The growth among Asian voters is likely linked to their rise as the US's largest immigrant group.

If anything, white voters are also overrepresented among voters who have died between 2012 and 2016 (76 percent).

White voters are amongst the oldest.
White voters are among the oldest.
Pew Research Center

New electorate, new tactics?

The number of eligible voters isn’t just becoming more diverse; it’s projected to stay that way. In response, politicians on the left and the right are faced more with the concerns of constituents of color.

In 2012, Latino voters were essential to President Obama's reelection over Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Romney was only able to persuade 27 percent of Latino voters to vote for him, which was the lowest turnout for a Republican candidate in the past four presidential elections.

Even with this growth in diversity, the right to vote for many people of color is in jeopardy. After the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to invalidate the 1965 Voting Rights Act, gerrymandering and a wave of voter ID laws have left many voters of color at risk of disenfranchisement.

Additionally, as Vox's Michelle Hackman pointed out, even with increased electoral power, not all Latinos who are eligible to vote are voting.

One reason for this is simply because Latino voters — as mentioned earlier — tend to be younger, and younger voters don't necessarily come out to the polls. Though voter turnout for those ages 18 to 29 hit a peak 52 percent in 2008, only 45 percent of those in this age range voted in 2012.

In the 2014 midterm elections, which already tend to have lower participation, Latino voter turnout dropped to 27 percent, a record low. Millennial Latinos, however, had the lowest turnout among eligible Latino voters — they dropped from 17.6 percent in 2010 to 15.2 that year.

But other factors in which voters are even eligible to cast a ballot include how arduous the naturalization process can be. With the exception of voting and being protected from deportation if they commit a crime, Latinos who are permanent residents are still able to reap many benefits from being in the US without full citizenship.

As Republicans push to suppress Latino voters' rights, the costly, tedious process of becoming a full citizen just to vote may not appear worthwhile for the 5.4 million Latinos who live and work in the US with a green card.

This results in a major loss for the Latino voting bloc.

Votes from people of color will continue to have a significant hold on elections to come. It will be important to support — not impede — their participation in the voting process.

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