Young immigrants are looking to social media to participate in politics and elections, even if they are not eligible to vote.


The political power of immigrants is on the rise in the United States.

The number of eligible immigrant voters nearly doubled from about 12 million in 2000 to more than 23 million in 2020.

Immigrant voters tend to be older than US-born voters, but immigrants ages 18-37 still made up 20% of all immigrant voters in 2020.

We are a team of scholars and students from all disciplines and universities researching the civic development of young immigrants, and we believe it is important to recognize that young immigrants also play a key role in driving older immigrants to vote, primarily by connecting with them through social networks. .

Our research shows that online sites and apps like Twitter are key for young immigrants, both those born outside of the US and second-generation immigrants, as ways to participate in politics. Many young immigrants use social media to follow the news in their local communities, as well as in their home countries. They also use it to organize protests and encourage others to vote.

This is true even when these youth are not eligible to vote due to their immigration status.

Young immigrants have been found to use social media to encourage others in their community to vote.
Sara Wilf, Elena Maker Castro and Tania Quiles.

a key question

Immigration is a central issue for many voters in the upcoming midterm elections. An August 2022 Pew Research poll found that nearly 50% of registered voters reported that immigration was “very important” to them in the November 2022 election.

Some Republican politicians, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and others also seeking reelection, have focused on immigration in their campaigns, pointing to a record number of migrants crossing the US border. Republican politicians have also moved thousands of immigrants to liberal places like Washington, DC, New York and Massachusetts in recent months.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s plan to revamp the nation’s immigration system and provide a path for some 11 million undocumented residents to gain citizenship remains stalled in Congress.

However, in recent years, young immigrants (people ages 18 to 23 who were born in other countries, or whose parents were) have helped lead national movements to provide a conditional path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, which resulted in the 2021 approval of the DREAM Act. This policy gives millions of undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children the right to remain in the country.

The DREAMer movement relied heavily on social media to spread information and encourage people to take action. Based on the previous successes of young immigrants mobilizing their communities for political change, we believe their online political engagement could have implications for the 2022 midterm elections.

Mobilizing others

Our 2020 research study explored how young immigrants ages 18-23 used social media to engage in politics. We took 2,300 screenshots of political tweets from January to November 2020, from a sample of the public Twitter feeds of 32 young immigrants that we found through national networks of young immigrants, such as United We Dream.

Based on the content of their profiles and Twitter posts, we were confident that they were all real immigrant youth residing in the U.S. We then contacted them via Twitter about the study, and most confirmed their age and immigration status. . We went on to analyze the screenshots to identify trends in how young people were participating politically online.

We also conducted interviews with 11 people in the sample, further confirming that we had recruited young people whose Twitter profiles accurately represented their real identities. Several indicated either in their Twitter profiles and tweets or in interviews that they were not eligible to vote due to their documentation status.

We found that young immigrants use Twitter to educate their followers about political issues and processes in the US and abroad, and to share opportunities both online and in person to protest or vote.

These young people seemed to intentionally target their ethnic and regional communities in their social media outreach.

For example, some youth in our June 2022 study asked their followers to translate racial justice educational resources into different languages ​​to share with their families.

Others provided voter registration guides in multiple languages, alerted supporters to political candidates who shared an ethnic or regional identity, or encouraged particular ethnic communities, such as those in South Asia, to vote.

In interviews, young people also described bringing political conversations from their phones to the table and discussing the news they had read online with their parents.

Some participants also shared that they posted on social media with the explicit intention of changing the political views of their family members.

One person we interviewed in 2020 who had ancestry in the Philippines and Belize noted that they “realized the importance of educating people and having those difficult conversations,” particularly with their family and friends.

Valeria, a college senior from Puerto Rico, also explained how Facebook was “the family’s social media platform” where she raised awareness of political issues.

“The way I see it is that I’m at least planting a seed, right? I am planting an idea, at least I am helping others, at least listening to what is happening,” said Valeria, who also asked to use a pseudonym, in a 2020 interview with our team that appeared in the 2022 study.

A screenshot of a social media page shows a user named Amit Jani encouraging Asian or Pacific Islander voters to attend an online call for the election of Joe Biden.
A screenshot from the authors’ study shows a tweet from a young immigrant in 2020.
Sara Wilf, Elena Maker Castro and Tania Quiles

From online to offline engagement

The online political engagement of young immigrants reflects broader trends in the US.

About 46% of US teens use the internet “almost constantly,” compared to just 24% who said the same in 2014.

Along with this rise in internet use, more young people are using social media to educate others on social and political issues, hold politicians accountable, and provide their supporters with opportunities to take action through political and climate movements like Fridays for Future and Black Lives Matter.

Online political engagement has important consequences for offline political behaviors.

In fact, nearly a quarter of American adults report that they have changed their minds on a political issue because of social media. Online political engagement has also been shown to result in more young people taking part in protests and encouraging people to vote.

Our findings align with previous research showing that immigrant youth are politically educating and mobilizing their families and community members.

A survey of people allowed to remain in the US due to the DREAM Act ahead of the 2020 election found that nearly 95% of them planned to encourage family and friends to vote.

The online political engagement of young immigrants has several potential implications for the 2022 midterm elections.

First, as our 2022 study found, young immigrants are using social media to influence their parents’ views on political issues like racial justice and teach them how to register to vote.

Due to the large impact immigrant voters may have in the 2022 midterm elections, particularly in swing states, the online political engagement of young immigrants could play a role in shaping the election outcome.

Doctor. students Bethany Murray, J. Abigail Saavedra, and Lamont Bryant, as well as three college students, Kedar Garzón Gupta, Jaime García, and Aditi Rudra, and UCLA professor Laura Wray-Lake are all members of the team that conducted the research to the study featured in this article.


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