According to a study from the Pew Research Center, African-Americans may have voted at a higher rate than whites for the first time in history in the 2012 election.
While the actual numbers can’t be known with certainty until the U.S. Census Bureau publishes the results of its post-election survey on voter turnout next spring, the Pew study finds strong circumstantial evidence that black voters’ turnout rate was indeed higher than white voters’ in November. As the study notes,
[A]ccording to census data and the election day exit polls, blacks made up 12 percent of the eligible electorate this year but accounted for an estimated 13 percent of all votes cast—a repeat of the 2008 presidential election, when blacks “over-performed” at the polls by the same ratio.
Black voters have now seen their turnout rate rise in each of the past three presidential elections. By contrast, the study found that white voters’ “share of the eligible electorate has been falling for decades,” and “their turnout rate appears to have declined in 2012 for the second presidential election in row.”
The high turnout rate is particularly notable in light of the voter ID laws that many critics believe were invented with the express purpose of disenfranchising minority voters. Some observers, such as The Nation’s Ari Berman, have argued convincingly that these efforts may have backfired and actually made black voters more motivated to cast a ballot; these numbers are consistent with Berman’s conclusion.
The numbers should also serve as a glaring warning sign for the Republican Party. According to exit polls, President Obama won an overwhelming 93 percent of black voters nationally, and that trend was magnified in swing states (in Ohio, for example, African-Americans comprised 15 percent of the electorate — up 4 percent from 2008 — and Obama won 96 percent of their votes).
Many GOP leaders have acknowledged that the party must do a better job attracting Latinos and women in future elections, but few Republicans have publicly called for greater outreach to African-Americans. That is a huge political miscalculation. Black voters were a major key to the Democratic victory in 2012, and as this Pew study suggests, they are trending towards playing an increasingly important role in the future.
Photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais