Black Voters Turned Out At Greatest Rate For 2012 Election

Much was made on election night about the importance of minority voter turnout. On Wednesday, the U.S. Census Bureau released new data on the racial and ethnic breakdown of voters in the 2012 presidential election. The census data provides better figures than what was available from exit polls.

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This afternoon, the Census Bureau released a survey of voters in the 2012 election. And the survey gives us a more complete picture of who voted, specifically in the demographic breakdown. It shows that in 2012, black voters turned out at the polls at a higher rate than whites for the first time. Hansi Lo Wang of NPR's Code Switch team reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Before Election Night 2012, many speculated that turnout among black voters was far from a sure thing.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Can Barack Obama depend on 2008-level support from black voters in November?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: They turned out overwhelmingly to vote for Barack Obama in 2008. Are they going to be as enthusiastic this time around?

JASON JOHNSON: I never believed that nonsense last year.

WANG: Jason Johnson, a political scientist at Hiram College in Ohio, says he's not surprised by today's census findings. In 2012, African-Americans voted at a greater rate than any other racial or ethnic group. Two-thirds of eligible black voters went to the polls, according to the Census Bureau. That's more than white voters at 64 percent. But Johnson warns that it wasn't just because 2012 was an opportunity to re-elect America's first black president.

JOHNSON: Black people aren't turning out in these high numbers just because they like Obama. Goodness, if you look at the unemployment numbers during his first term, there would be every reason for people to not vote for him.

WANG: The Census Bureau also found that black voters 45 and older saw the highest rate increase when you take both race and age into account. And political scientist Paula McClain, at Duke University, says that's to be expected from this generation of black voters.

PAULA MCCLAIN: Because these are individuals for whom the right to vote was something they couldn't take for granted. These are individuals who fought to get the right to vote.

WANG: The national turnout rate for Latino voters, however, dropped slightly. This, despite Latinos being a major focus for both Democrats and Republicans in the last presidential election. Latinos are one of the fastest growing racial groups and voting groups in the country. But Latino voters were not concentrated in 2012's battleground states.

LISA GARCIA BEDOLLA: We just need to remember that California, Texas, New York - all very heavily Latino states - were off the table. So in the places where the vote was mobilized, they were quite successful.

WANG: That's Lisa Garcia Bedolla of the University of California at Berkeley who studies Latino voter mobilization. She adds that success in getting more Latino voters to the polls will also depend on addressing the gap between Latino citizens who can vote and those who do. Sylvia Manzano studies Latino voting patterns for the polling firm Latino Decisions.

SYLVIA MANZANO: As Latinos become a larger share of the eligible electorate. That means that outreach needs to take into consideration that a large share of the eligible Latino electorate is younger than the rest of the country.

WANG: Young voters have traditionally voted at much lower rates, regardless of race or ethnicity. Manzano adds that outreach will be critical for getting young Latino voters to the polls. That's a point not lost in the Republican Party. GOP leaders have already made clear their party's intent to reach out to a wider group of voters going forward. Not just Latino voters, but also African-American and Asian-American.

Paula McClain at Duke University defines success for Republicans with minority voters a little differently.

MCCLAIN: They don't have to win the majority of the black vote or the majority of the Latino vote because elections are won on the margins.

WANG: Demographics do not predetermine election results, but they are a force in American politics, a force that's rapidly changing.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.

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