WASHINGTON – Despite often-voiced concerns about the effect of voter identification laws, black voter turnout remained high in 2012 and, for the first time, may have topped the rate for whites, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.
Four years ago, the rate of black voter turnout almost equaled that of whites, continuing a trend of a steady increase in black turnout rates that began in 1996. This year, with white turnout appearing to have dropped, black turnout seems very likely to have exceeded the white level, although definitive figures won’t be available until the Census Bureau reports in a few months.
A higher turnout rate among blacks than whites would mark a historic milestone given America’s long history of disenfranchising blacks. Blacks were effectively barred from polls in many states until after passage of the federal Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Overall, about 60 percent of Americans eligible to register actually voted in 2012, according to data compiled by Michael McDonald of George Mason University.
The number of voters from minority groups rose in November’s election, a key factor in President Barack Obama’s re-election. But those numbers went up for disparate reasons. Among Latinos and Asians, population growth has steadily driven up the number of voters. Turnout rates also have gone up, but remain significantly lower than those of the population as a whole.
The nation’s black population, by contrast, has remained steady, but the number of black voters has continued to go up because of higher turnout rates. Blacks make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population but were 13 percent of the voter turnout, according to exit polling. Whites made up about 71 percent of the voter-eligible population and 72 percent of the turnout, the exit poll indicated.