Black turnout surpassed whites in 2012 presidential election

Census: Percentage of blacks voting greater than whites for first time since survey began in 1996

Blacks voted in higher percentages than whites in November 2012, the first time that has occurred since the U.S. Census Bureau began tracking the race of voters, according to data released this week.

A Dayton Daily News analysis found that the trend applied to both the nation and the state of Ohio. Almost two-thirds of African-American citizens of voting age turned out to vote in the 2012 presidential election nationally, compared to 64.1 percent of white non-Hispanics.

That’s the first time black turnout has exceeded whites since 1996, when the Census Bureau began publishing statistics on voting by the eligible citizen population. The disparity was even stronger in Ohio, where 71.7 percent of eligible blacks voted compared to 61.9 percent of whites.

In raw numbers, both in the U.S. and Ohio, voting by blacks, Hispanics and Asians increased in 2012, while the number of white non-Hispanics casting ballots decreased compared to 2008.

Political scientist Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the sustained black voting participation is directly attributable to President Barack Obama and his efficient campaign.

“African-Americans have been energized by the historic candidacy of Barack Obama in both elections,” Sabato said. “But I also believe this increase in 2012 was due overwhelmingly to the extensive and sophisticated voter-targeting efforts of the Obama campaign. They knew where to target votes.”

Sustainability question

Obama got 96 percent of the black vote in 2008 and 93 percent in 2012, Sabato said. So if the Obama campaign could find 1,000 black voters who hadn’t voted before or were unlikely to vote, they could gain 930 votes.

“That’s an incredibly efficient use of campaign resources,” Sabato said. “And the Republicans have nothing like it. They don’t have any group that fills that bill for them the way African-Americans do for Democrats.”

At the same time, he said, anyone who followed the campaign knew that Republican candidate Mitt Romney “didn’t excite many of his voters – even the people who voted for him.”

“In the end,” Sabato said, “some of them were not enthused enough about Romney to come out and vote.”

The question going forward, Sabato said, is whether Democrats can sustain the black voting when there is no black candidate on the ballot.

“We’ll all find out together in 2016, assuming there isn’t an African-American on there,” he said. “And there probably won’t be.”

Nationwide, about 1.7 million more black voters reported going to the polls than in 2008, the Census survey found. In addition, 1.4 million more Hispanics and 550,000 more Asians voted in 2012. Meanwhile, the number of white non-Hispanics voting declined by about 2 million from 2008 to 2012.

Ohio mirrored those results, except for Asians. About 69,000 more blacks voted in Ohio in 2012, and increase of 11 percent from 2008. About 24,000 more Hispanics voted in 2012, an increase of almost one third, making them the fastest-growing ethnic or racial voting group in the state. Hispanics, however, still make up less than 2 percent of Ohio voters.

The number of votes cast by Ohio’s white voters, meanwhile, decreased by about 153,000 or 3.3 percent.

Fewer younger voters

One of the big stories in Obama’s historic 2008 victory was the dramatic increase in voters between the ages of 18 and 24. Those youngest voters were the only age group to see a statistically significant increase (from 47 percent to 49 percent) in the 2008 election compared to 2004.

That trend did not continue in 2012, the data show. Nationally, the turnout among the youngest voters declined by more than 7 percentage points, to fall back to about 41 percent.

In Ohio, the decline was more pronounced, falling almost 11 percentage points from 57 percent in 2008 to 46 percent in 2012. The number of voters younger than 25 fell by about 70,000 in the state.

Sabato said he’s a “little suspicious” of those numbers, even though the survey is huge by polling standards. The Census Bureau surveyed more than 101,000 people for the data report, while exit polls usually number in the 100s of interviews.

Still, Sabato said the exit polling he saw found that turnout among voters younger than 30 (a larger group) increased from 17 percent in 2008 to 18 percent in 2012.

He conceded, however, that the new voters in 2012 could have declined, while the voters from 25 to 29, who were mostly in the youngest group in 2008, could have continued to grow.

In any case, he said, the two elections were vastly different for young people.

“It’s anecdotal,” Sabato said, “but I can tell you that in the 43 years I’ve been on a college campus, I’ve never seen anything like 2008.

“It was somewhere between a mission and a crusade and a fad. You put all those three together and they really got motivated. That was not true in 2012.”

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