The findings in a Census Bureau report released Wednesday examining the overall changes in voting by race and Hispanic origin may make Democratic hearts flutter faster while flustering Republican hearts, if the decline of white voters versus an increase in non-Hispanic voters is as real as the data in the report.
President Barack Obama won a second term last year due in large part to a targeted and energized field ground game, in battleground states like Ohio, that turned out the very groups cited in “The Diversifying Electorate — Voting Rates by Race and Hispanic Origin in 2012 (and Other Recent Elections)” that Democrats hope to capture more of in the future at the expense of Republicans who fear immigration reform and Medicaid expansion will only exacerbate their already noticeable losses with these groups.
If the racial voting patterns from the 2012 election persist, the Pew Research Center deduced, “the electoral playing field for future Republican presidential candidates will become increasingly difficult” PRC noted that Mitt Romney, last year’s GOP presidential standard bearer, received just 17 percent of the non-white vote.
In a late morning conference call with select reporters, report author Thomas File, a sociologist in the Census Bureau’s Education and Social Stratification Branch, said, “Over the last five presidential elections, the share of voters who were racial or ethnic minorities rose from just over one in six in 1996 to more than one in four in 2012.”
Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, a political reality that recognizes changing demographics that contributed in large measure to rethinking by the GOP, based on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan losing badly to President Obama with Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and women, of how it can reach out to these growing and engaged sectors without compromising its core values and principles. The only demographic Republicans did well with in 2012 were seniors.
“Blacks have been voting at higher rates, and the Hispanic and Asian populations are growing rapidly, yielding a more diverse electorate,” File said in prepared remarks.
About two in three eligible blacks (66.2 percent) voted in the 2012 presidential election, higher than the 64.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites who did so, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday. This marks the first time that blacks have voted at a higher rate than whites since the Census Bureau started publishing statistics on voting by the eligible citizen population in 1996.
Findings from the report, billed as an analysis of the likelihood of voting by demographic factors like race, Hispanic origin, sex, age and geography (specifically, census divisions), included data from the November 2012 Current Population Survey [CPS] Voting and Registration Supplement as it looked at presidential elections back to 1996.
File noted that voting and registration rates are historically higher in years with presidential elections than in congressional election years. For this report, 2012 election data was compared only with data from other recent presidential election years. As the Census Bureau has collected voting and registration data since 1964, the CPS has gathered consistent citizenship data in presidential elections only since 1996. Because this analysis focuses solely on the voting eligible citizen population, File said discussion is limited to 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012.
Using the race definitions from 1968 and the total voting-age population, whites voted at higher rates than blacks in every presidential election between 1968, when the Census Bureau began publishing voting data by race, and 1992.
File said that Blacks were the only race or ethnic group to show a significant increase between the 2008 and 2012 elections in the likelihood of voting (from 64.7 percent to 66.2 percent). The 2012 increase in voting among blacks continues what has been a long-term trend: since 1996, turnout rates have risen 13 percentage points to the highest levels of any recent presidential election.
To be fair, though, PRC said the rise in the black turnout rate pre-dates Barack Obama’s appearance on the national political scene.
In contrast, after reaching a high in 2004, non-Hispanic white voting rates have dropped in two consecutive elections. Between 2008 and 2012, rates for non-Hispanic whites dropped from 66.1 percent to 64.1 percent. As recently as 1996, blacks had turnout rates 8 percentage points lower than non-Hispanic whites.
Overall, the percentage of eligible citizens who voted declined from 63.6 percent in 2008 to 61.8 percent in 2012.
Both blacks and non-Hispanic whites had voting rates higher than Hispanics and Asians in the 2012 election (about 48 percent each).
Between 1996 and 2012, blacks, Asians and Hispanics all had an increase in their shares of the voting population, with the Hispanic share increasing by about 4 percentage points and the black share by about 3 points.
The number of blacks who voted rose by about 1.7 million between the 2008 and 2012 elections. Likewise, the number of Hispanics who voted increased by 1.4 million and the number of Asians by 550,000. At the same time, the number of non-Hispanic white voters declined by about 2 million, the only such drop for any single-race group between elections since 1996. The figures for blacks and Hispanics are not significantly different from each other.
Gender and Age Differences
The report also shows that the so-called “gender gap” in voting persists. In fact, in every presidential election since 1996, women have voted at higher rates than men. In 2012, the spread was about 4 percentage points. The gap was especially wide among black voters, among whom it reached 9 percentage points in 2012. Asians are the only race or Hispanic-origin group that showed no significant gender gap.
There were large declines in youth voting among all race groups and Hispanics in 2012. Non-Hispanic whites age 18 to 24 and 25 to 44 showed a statistically significant voting rate decreases, as did young Hispanics 18 to 24 years of age. The only race/Hispanic-origin/age combinations showing voting rate increases in 2012 were blacks ages 45 to 64 and 65 and older.
Other report highlights:
Voting rates increase with age: in 2012, the percentage of eligible adults who voted ranged from 41.2 percent for 18- to 24-year-olds, to a high of 71.9 percent for those 65 and older, a demographic Romney and Ryan enjoyed over Obama and Joe Biden.
Although blacks voted at higher rates than non-Hispanic whites nationally in 2012, this result was not uniform across the country. In the East North Central, East South Central, Middle Atlantic, and South Atlantic divisions, blacks voted at higher rates than non-Hispanic whites. In the Mountain and Pacific divisions, non-Hispanic whites voted at higher rates than blacks. In the New England, West North Central and West South Central divisions, voting rates for the two groups were not significantly different from each other.
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