No gap in black-white turnout in 2008 elections; youth gap narrowing

pewturnoutgraph-050109The Pew Research Center, in partnership with CIRCLE released a report showing that Asians, Hispanics and Blacks voted in record numbers in the 2008 election, partially spurred by the magnetic candidacy of Barack Obama.  America’s three biggest minority groups — blacks, Hispanics and Asians — comprised almost a quarter of all voters for president in 2008. The increases in minority voting were driven by increases both in numbers of voters and the rate of election turnout.

The second table shows especially large increases in the turnout rate among blacks, and especially black women (not charted), although all non-white groups showed increases.  [Black turnout rose from 60% in 2004 to 65% in 2008, virtually indistinguishable from the voting rates of whites at 66%.]

68.8% of eligible black female voters voted in 2008 (an increase of 5.1 percentage points, from 63.7% in 2004), so that black women were the highest voting of any racial-gender pairing.

pewturnoutgraph2-050109So the interesting takeaway from all this was that although the voting rate in November (despite all the money spent on the campaign and the telegenic candidacy of Obama) was relatively unchanged, but the composition of the voters definitely did change, with whites continuing to disengage and non-whites becoming more active.

The region of the country that saw the most dramatic increases in black voter turnout rate was in the South.

Obviously the $1,000,000 question is whether these behavioral changes are likely to continue beyond the Obama candidacy.  One piece of good news for those interested in seeing non-white voting rates continue to rise, is the behavior of younger Americans, as youth tend to keep the civic habits they demonstrate in their teens and twenties.  And this was also good news, especially for blacks.

CIRCLE’s analysis revealed that the “youth gap” ( younger Americans voting at lower rates than older Americans) continued to shrink in 2008. [For example, voters 18-29 voted at rates 24 percentage points less than Americans 30 and older in 2000 but this narrowed to a gap of 16 percentage points less in 2008.]  But minorities also saw good news in the turnout of various ethnic groups.  Young black adults’ voting rates (ages 18-29) increased by 17% from 49.5% in 2004 to 58.2% in 2008.  For the first time, the turnout among 18-29 year old blacks was higher than any other racial and ethnic group in 2008.  While white youth voting rates were relatively flat from 2004 to 2008, mixed race youth voting at 55%, almost 10 percentage points higher than in 2004 (perhaps motivated by voting for a mixed-race president).  Latino and Asian turnout rates continued to increase, but they significantly trailed turnout rates of whites, mixed race and black youth voters.  (The only youth group to see a decline in voting rates in 2008 was Native American Non-Hispanics.)

So the increases in youth turnout, if they persist could help change the distortion in our democratic process toward politicians being more responsive to the needs of older voters, and if non-white voters continue to increase their voting turnout rates and white turnout rates continue to decline, this may also start to change the voices heard in the democratic process.

See also: No Racial Gap Seen in ’08 Turnout (NYT, 5/1/09)

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