A census first: Black voter turnout bests whites 


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WASHINGTON — Making history, America’s Blacks voted at higher rates than whites in 2012, lifting Democrat Barack Obama to victory amid voter apathy, particularly among young people, new census data show. Despite increasing population, the number of white voters declined for the first time since 1996.

Blacks were the only race or ethnic group to show an increase in voter turnout in November, most notably in the Midwest and Southeastern U.S., the Census Bureau said Wednesday. The analysis, based on a sample survey of voters last year, is viewed as the best source of government data on turnout by race and ethnicity.

The Associated Press reported recently that Black voter turnout surpassed whites for the first time, based on an analysis by experts of earlier data.

In all, about 66.2 percent of eligible Black voters cast ballots in 2012, up from 64.7 percent in 2008, according to census data. That compares with non-Hispanic white turnout of 64.1 percent, which fell from 66.1 percent four years earlier. As recently as 1996, Blacks had turnout rates 8 percentage points lower than non-Hispanic whites.

Latino turnout dipped slightly, from 49.9 percent in 2008 to 48 percent, while Asian-American turnout was basically unchanged at 47 percent.

Voter turnout across all race and ethnic groups fell for a second consecutive presidential election, from 64 percent in 2004 to 62 percent in November, according to the census figures.

“Obama’s win in 2012, despite the important Democratic constituency of young voters not participating at a high level, is good news,” said Michael McDonald, a George Mason University professor who specializes in voter turnout. “The bad news is that voting is a habit — and the fact that we saw turnout declines among younger African-Americans suggests Democrats will have to work even harder to excite these voters in future elections.”

The data underscore how turnout plays an important role in elections for both whites and Blacks, who will remain the two largest racial groups of eligible voters for the next decade. While Hispanics are now the fast-growing demographic group, they currently make up a smaller share of eligible voters because many are children and non-citizens, limiting their electoral impact for the immediate future.

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