Nearly one-fourth of voters in last November's election were minorities, the most diverse election ever, fueled by high turnout from black women and a growing Hispanic population, an independent research group found.
The study by the Pew Research Center, released Thursday, also showed that for the first time blacks had the highest voter turnout rate of any racial or ethnic group among people ages 18 to 29. Analysts said it remained to be seen how fully the strong minority participation, a reflection of both changing U.S. demographics and enthusiasm for Democrat Barack Obama, would carry over to future elections.
Pew's analysis of census data found that whites cast about 100 million, or 76 percent, of the 131 million total ballots last November, compared with 79 percent in 2004. It was the sharpest percentage drop in more than a decade.
Blacks, meanwhile, had their sharpest increase in voter participation in more than a decade, with 15.9 million casting ballots to make up 12.1 percent of the electorate. Blacks previously had seen their share decline to 11 percent in 2004 after their low turnout in Republican George W. Bush's re-election win over Democrat John Kerry.
But in 2008, about 65 percent of blacks went to the polls, nearly matching the 66 percent voting rate for whites. Black women had the highest rates of participation among all voters at 69 percent; they were followed by white women (68 percent), white men (64 percent) and black men (61 percent).
Hispanics also had gains in voting share, mostly due to their rapidly growing population. In 2008, about 9.7 million, or half of Hispanics eligible to vote, cast ballots. They made up about 7.4 percent of the total voters, a jump from 6 percent in 2004.
Due to immigration and high birth rates, the number of Hispanics eligible to vote rose by 21 percent from 2004 to 2008 to 19.5 million, compared with a 5 percent increase for the general population. The fastest-growing minority group, Hispanic voters helped Obama flip the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.
"Moving into the future, we're going to see a much more diverse electorate," said Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, who co-wrote the report. "Among youths generally and black youths in particular, we have seen an increase in voter participation since 2000, and there's generally been more civic engagement such as volunteering."
Lopez attributed the higher turnout among youths to better outreach, as well as early voting and Election Day registration in some states that allow voters to register when they arrive at the polls.
- Among voters 18-29, blacks had the strongest participation rate in last November's election at 58 percent, compared with 51 percent overall in that age group. Blacks were followed by whites (52 percent), Asians (43 percent) and Hispanics (41 percent).
- The greatest increases in turnout were in Southern states with large black populations who were eligible to vote: Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana, as well as the District of Columbia.
- Women widened their turnout advantage over men. In 2008, about 65.7 percent of women cast ballots — more than 4 percentage points higher than the 61.5 percent rate for men. In 2004, 65.4 percent of women voted compared with 62.1 percent for men.
- About 47 percent of Asians, or 3.3 million, voted in 2008. They made up about 2.5 percent of total voters, up slightly from 2004.
The Pew analysis is based on the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, which asked respondents after Election Day about their voting registration and turnout. The figures for "white" refer to the whites who are not of Hispanic ethnicity.