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Study: African-American Voters Flex Growing Political Muscles Study: African-American Voters Flex Growing Political Muscles

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The Next America - Politics 2012 / Politics

Study: African-American Voters Flex Growing Political Muscles

Students at Howard University react to President Obama's reelection victory.(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

December 27, 2012

African-Americans, who cast a ballot at higher rates than any other racial and ethnic minority group, may have also voted at higher rates than whites for the first time, an analysis by the Pew Research Center has found.

While official census confirmation of the 2012 results is still months away, available data suggest that African-Americans and whites overperformed--the former, for example made up 12 percent of the eligible electorate but accounted for about 13 percent of all votes cast, according to Pew. The Pew report analyzed data from select cities, counties, and the National Election Pool, which is an Election Day exit survey.

“It’s quite possible" African-Americans voted at a higher rate than whites, said Paul Taylor, director of the Pew’s Social and Demographic Trends project and director of the Pew Hispanic Center. “It came very close four years ago.”

 

But even if results show that black participation was at parity, Taylor told The Next America, the overarching trend indicates that the voting gap between black and whites is gradually closing, a notable feat considering years of black disenfranchisement. “That represents a real closing of historical gaps,” he added.

Taylor said that 2008 marked the first time the white-black voter turnout was so narrow. That year, 66.1 percent of eligible white voters cast a ballot, compared with 65.2 percent of blacks.

For many, he said, recent exit polls of minority voter participation resulted in a “aha moment” with much attention focused on the rise of the Asian-American and Latino electorate in the coalition that helped elect the first black president for a second term.

But unlike these groups, whose population growth translated to growing electoral power, the black share of the vote has resulted from rising turnout rates in the past four presidential elections. 

Taylor attributes the rise in voter participation rates, in part, to changes in voter-identification laws across the country and the candidacy of the first black candidate running for office twice. In the weeks leading to the presidential election, African-American, Latino, grassroots organizations, and some politicians elevated the debate on what the voter-ID laws might do to minority voter turnout.

Supporters of the laws said that the changes were needed to prevent voter fraud, while black and Latino leaders said they were intended to keep minorities from the polls.

Advocates successfully sent the message that “we fought for over 200 years and they want to take this from you now,” Taylor said.

Equally notable was the overall rise in racial and ethnic diversity of the electorate and the shrinking voter turnout rate among white voters. Between 2004 and 2008, the white voter turnout rate declined by 1.1 percentage points, the Pew report noted.

Overall, 129 million people voted in 2012, down by 2 million from the previous presidential election. Calculating for increases in eligible voters from the 2008 cycle, the turnout rate fell by more than 3 percentage points to about 60 percent, the report said.

Here’s a racial and ethnic breakdown of share of the 2012 vote compared with the share of eligible voters from the Pew report:

  • Whites: 72 percent, compared with 71 percent.
  • Blacks: 13 percent, compared with 12 percent.
  • Hispanics: 10 percent, compared with 11 percent.
  • Asian-Americans: 3 percent, compared with 4 percent.
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