City releases findings on recent survey campaign measuring immigrant civic engagement, largest dataset of its kind
SEATTLE (May 31, 2018) The City of Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) announced a series of findings related to immigrant and refugee civic engagement and voting, one of the largest city-level datasets on this issue.
The Seattle Votes Survey campaign ran from April to June of 2016 and collected demographic and civic engagement information from 5,566 immigrant and refugee residents of Seattle-King County, surpassing its goal of 5,000 completed surveys. Political polling think tank Latino Decisions helped OIRA create the survey and analyze the results. They also helped ensure the surveys were completed anonymously.
“Immigrant and refugee residents are a growing and increasingly influential population in Seattle,” said OIRA Director Cuc Vu, herself a refugee from Vietnam. “Yet, basic information about immigrant and refugee civic engagement habits is extremely lacking. And with so much at stake for immigrant and refugee communities in both local and national elections, it is vitally important for municipalities to have baseline information about its immigrant residents, so we can better serve our communities.”
The Seattle Votes survey was translated into thirteen languages: Amharic, Arabic, Chinese (Traditional), English, Indonesian, Khmer (Cambodian), Korean, Oromo, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Tigrinya, and Vietnamese. Residents were able to fill out printed or online versions. One hundred and nine organizations partnered with the City of Seattle to help administer the surveys in-language for one-on-one engagement. As a result, paper surveys accounted for an overwhelming 80% of the submitted forms.
Seattle Votes found that among the immigrant respondents that are currently registered to vote, 80% say they were very likely to vote in the 2016 elections. However, only 54% of the entire sample was registered to vote.
Based on these findings, OIRA launched an in-language direct mailer campaign in September of last year targeting new Americans, encouraging them to register to vote. Each mailer consisted of a pre-filled translated voter registration form, registration instructions in nine languages, and an individualized message from OIRA director Cuc Vu encouraging them to register. OIRA mailed each packet to 1,572 U.S. citizens who had become naturalized through the City of Seattle’s citizenship programs since 1999. Upon later analysis, the office determined a five percent rate of return for new voter registrations from the mailer, equaling the industry average of 3–5 percent. OIRA believes adding in an extra step of in-language phone call follow-ups for the list will likely lead to a higher return rate. The office is interested in exploring this potential program in the future.
The Seattle Votes Survey results also revealed that the main reason given for not registering to vote was a lack of information about how and where to register. Almost half of respondents (47%) said that registering to vote is too complicated. This is nearly 4 times higher than the next most frequently indicated reason of being “too busy” to register. Of this 47%, an equal percentage completed the survey in English versus another language.
That’s why OIRA lauds King County Elections’ ongoing work to increase voting access for immigrant and refugee communities. This year, King County Elections invested more than $460,000 in 33 organizations to remove barriers to voting in underserved and underrepresented communities, including immigrants and refugees.
In a related finding, Latino Decisions found that overall, low English proficiency increased feelings of powerlessness. Yet, simultaneously low English proficient Mexican and Vietnamese respondents feel the highest levels of empowerment. Latino Decisions Senior Analyst Dr. Adrian D. Pantoja theorized that access to ethnic media might explain this paradox, as 57% of respondents from Mexico reported consumption of ethnic TV, while almost half of Vietnamese respondents said they get information about elections, issues, and candidates from ethnic TV and newspapers. Other immigrant groups reported lower rates of ethnic media consumption. Due to these findings, the City of Seattle renews its commitment to help ensure all appropriate departments include ethnic media in inclusive outreach and engagement planning when needed.
In addition to the Latino Decisions report, OIRA also published three additional reports focused on the three primary immigrant communities in Seattle: Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino, and East African. Those reports are available here
Discussion of the Seattle Votes campaign began in 2014 with the Immigrant Voting Rights Task Force. This committee, comprised of immigrant and refugee civic leaders, released a report with recommendations for city and regional governments. One of the top recommendations was the need for better data about immigrant and refugee voters. Task Force report is available here.