Election Study: Black Turnout May Have Surpassed That Of Whites

People wait in line to vote at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus on Nov. 6 in Washington, D.C. i i

People wait in line to vote at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus on Nov. 6 in Washington, D.C. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images
People wait in line to vote at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus on Nov. 6 in Washington, D.C.

People wait in line to vote at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus on Nov. 6 in Washington, D.C.

Getty Images

African-Americans voted this year at a higher rate than other minorities and may have topped the rate for whites for the first time, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.

Blacks make up 12 percent of all eligible voters but contributed 13 percent of the votes in the presidential election — duplicating their record turnout in 2008, according to exit polls analyzed in the study. Latinos, whose turnout reached a historic high in actual number, made up 10 percent of the total.

Before the election, many strategists predicted black turnout could be disproportionately harmed by new Republican-backed state laws that required photo identification, reduced early voting hours and curtailed voter registration drives.

Instead, Democratic and civil rights groups used the threat of "voter suppression" to rally blacks.

The report also credits Obama's candidacy as "one of the main reasons" for blacks' strong turnout.

Minorities cast a record 28 percent of the votes, up from 26 percent in 2008. Obama received 80 percent of the minority vote, which allowed him to overcome his 39 percent support from whites — a historic low for a winning candidate.

Increased Latino and Asian voter participation was the result of their population growth, the report says. But the increase among blacks, whose population has remained largely stable, was driven by more of them casting ballots.

This year marks an increase in black turnout for the fourth consecutive presidential election, according to the study.

"The big story coming out of the election was 'demography as destiny,' that said the reason Obama won by nearly 5 million votes had to do with the changing demographics of the nation, which is the result of Latino and Asian population growth," says Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and author of the study's summary. "I did think, however, that the story of black turnout — where you don't have population growth driving this — was an interesting one."

The report indicates that the rate of white turnout appears to have dropped this year — for the second consecutive presidential election — and that it may have fallen below the rate of blacks.

The gap between white and black turnout was all but erased in 2008. If the black turnout rate surpassed that of whites this year, it would be historic.

"This should be acknowledged as a watershed moment in America history. You can finally see blacks coming into their own as participating at the same rate of whites," Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie says. "Will blacks behave this way once Obama is not on the ticket?

"If it persists, then this suggests that African-Americans are a force to be reckoned with and shouldn't be ignored," says Gillespie. "The same with Latinos and Asian American voters. ...This goes to the increasing diversification of the electorate."

Definitive data for this year's turnout rates won't be available until the Census Bureau publishes its biannual postelection survey in the spring.

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