America's Overseas Voters: 2016's Forgotten Constituency?

Dr Halbert Jones, Director of the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford

Dr Patrick Andelic, Research Associate, Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford

Executive Summary - Read the full report here

The role of overseas voters in the US Presidential election has become a significant issue in recent months. 

Earlier this year the Rothermere American Institute (RAI) at the University of Oxford published a report highlighting the impact overseas voters could have in a tight election. This study triggered widespread discussion in the US and international media and helped to prompt a major overseas voter registration drive by the online pressure group Avaaz.

This new report develops that analysis considerably, providing a more detailed look at US states where the result is most likely to be influenced by overseas voters, the profile of the population of overseas voters from a key swing state, and some of the countries in which overseas voters reside.

In particular, this report highlights that in certain key swing states – where polling suggests the race is particularly tight – the results could hinge on just a few thousand overseas votes.

The potential impact of overseas voters is particularly apparent in Ohio – long seen as America’s bellwether state – which may require Donald Trump to secure a majority of only 5,600 among overseas voters to take the state.  In Nevada Trump would require a majority of 7,100 among overseas voters to reverse Hillary Clinton’s apparent advantage in the polls.  Even if the scandals that have rocked the Trump campaign in recent days put those states out of his reach, overseas voters could still make a difference in states that might now be becoming more competitive, such as Iowa, Arizona, and Georgia.

The report looks at characteristics of overseas voters – with evidence pointing to a Democratic leaning among the group as a whole. An analysis of the characteristics of overseas voters from the swing state of North Carolina suggests that they are more likely to be registered Democrats, and to come from urban counties where support for Democrats is highest.

Further analysis considers the countries around the world where large populations of expatriate US citizens mean that they stand to play an important role in the 2016 presidential race. 

Key nations include:

  • Mexico, a focus of heated political rhetoric in the presidential campaign and home to nearly a million US citizens.  Though figures from the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) and the Mexican census suggest that a relatively small proportion of that population is of voting age, this report suggests that their potential impact might be greater than often thought.  Moreover, the large number of US-born children living in Mexico has potentially significant implications for future elections.
  • The United Kingdom, home to some the largest population of US citizens outside North America.  FVAP estimates that as many as 306,000 eligible US voters may live in Britain.
  • Israel, where some 133,000 US citizens may live, according to FVAP.  Many US-born Jews have taken up the “right of return” offered under Israeli law to settle there, and a large proportion of them hail from swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.  The extent to which US policy is a key strategic concern for Israel means interest in the election is likely to be especially high among Americans living there, and Republican activists in particular have sought to mobilise voters based in Israel. 

Other key countries include Canada, where FVAP estimates that there are  661,000 potential US voters; France, with an estimated 157,000 eligible voters; Japan, with approximately 111,000 Americans of voting age; and Australia, with about 103,000 potential voters.  

The 2016 US Presidential Election campaign has been one of the most volatile in living memory. With less than a month to go before the election there is still considerable room for further surprises. 

Read the full report

Press release