Tuesday, July 21, 2009

2008 Surge in Black Voters Nearly Erased Racial Gap

July 21, 2009

2008 Surge in Black Voters Nearly Erased Racial Gap

New York Times

In last year’s presidential election, younger blacks voted in greater proportions than whites for the first time and black women turned out at a higher rate than any other racial, ethnic and gender group, a census analysis released Monday confirmed.

As a result, in the election that produced the nation’s first black president, the historic gap between black and white voter participation rates over all virtually evaporated.

The Census Bureau’s survey also found striking contrasts in why people said they did not vote. More than three times as many whites as blacks said they did not like the candidates or campaign issues.

Over all, 18 percent of nonvoters said they were too busy, 15 percent said they were prevented because of an illness or disability and 13 percent each said they were not interested or did not like the candidates or issues.

Total turnout in 2008 was about the same as it was in 2004, about 64 percent of voting age citizens.

But with Barack Obama on the ballot, the makeup of the 131 million who voted last year was markedly different. While the number of non-Hispanic white voters remained roughly the same, 2 million more blacks, 2 million more Latinos and 600,000 more Asians turned out. Compared with 2004, the voting rate for black, Asian and Hispanic voters increased by about four percentage points. The rate for whites declined by one percentage point.

As a result, according to an analysis by William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, whites declined to 76 percent of all voters in 2008, from 79 percent in 2004.

Turnout varied widely by state, from a high of 75 percent in Minnesota to 52 percent in Utah.

In a number of states, including Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio and South Carolina, turnout among blacks surpassed 70 percent.

In 2004, according to the census, barely 60 percent of eligible blacks voted. In 2008, nearly 65 percent did (as did 66 percent of white voting-age citizens).

But one of the biggest changes was the gap between black and white participation. In 2004, the rate of black voter registration was 10 percentage points below that of whites. Last year, it narrowed to four percentage points.

Of the 206 million citizens 18 and older, 71 percent were registered to vote. Among those who were registered, 90 percent voted in 2008.

Thom File, a voting analyst with the Census Bureau, said the turnout among blacks ages 18 to 24 increased 8 percent from 2004, to 55 percent. That helped drive the overall turnout in that group to 49 percent, still lower than among older eligible voters.

Among voters 18 to 24 and 25 to 44, blacks voted at a higher rate than whites in 2008.

Like an analysis earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, the latest findings were drawn from census surveys and interviews.

“In 2008 we obviously had a historic candidacy,” said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew center. “That’s certainly a plausible explanation for the spike in African-American turnout. The question was, Would other minorities vote for this minority? Not only did he get a big vote, but he got a big turnout.”

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