Dissecting the 2008 Electorate: Most Diverse in U.S. History.

The electorate in last year’s presidential election was the most racially and ethnically diverse in U.S. history, with nearly one-in-four votes cast by non-whites, according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center. The nation’s three biggest minority groups–blacks, Hispanics and Asians–each accounted for unprecedented shares of the presidential vote in 2008.

Overall, whites (1) made up 76.3% of the record 131 million people who voted in November’s presidential election, while blacks made up 12.1%, Hispanics 7.4% and Asians 2.5%. The white share is the lowest ever, yet is still higher than the 65.8% white share of the total U.S. population.

The unprecedented diversity of the electorate last year was driven by increases both in the number and in the turnout rates of minority eligible voters.

The levels of participation by black, Hispanic and Asian eligible voters all increased from 2004 to 2008, reducing the voter participation gap between themselves and white eligible voters. This was particularly true for black eligible voters. Their voter turnout rate increased 4.9 percentage points, from 60.3% in 2004 to 65.2% in 2008, nearly matching the voter turnout rate of white eligible voters (66.1%). For Hispanics, participation levels also increased, with the voter turnout rate rising 2.7 percentage points, from 47.2% in 2004 to 49.9% in 2008. Among Asians, voter participation rates increased from 44.6% in 2004 to 47.0% in 2008. Meanwhile, among white eligible voters, the voter turnout rate fell slightly, from 67.2% in 2004 to 66.1% in 2008.

Much of the surge in black voter participation in 2008 was driven by increased participation among black women and younger voters. The voter turnout rate among eligible black female voters increased 5.1 percentage points, from 63.7% in 2004 to 68.8% in 2008. Overall, among all racial, ethnic and gender groups, black women had the highest voter turnout rate in November’s election-a first.

Blacks ages 18 to 29 increased their voter turnout rate by 8.7 percentage points, from 49.5% in 2004 to 58.2% in 2008, according to an analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University. The voter turnout rate among young black eligible voters was higher than that of young eligible voters of any other racial and ethnic group in 2008. This, too, was a first (Kirby and Kawashima-Ginsberg, 2009).

The increased diversity of the electorate was also driven by population growth, especially among Latinos. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of Latino eligible voters rose from 16.1 million in 2004 to 19.5 million in 2008, or 21.4%. In comparison, among the general population, the total number of eligible voters increased by just 4.6%.

In 2008, Latino eligible voters accounted for 9.5% of all eligible voters, up from 8.2% in 2004. Similarly, the share of eligible voters who were black increased from 11.6% in 2004 to 11.8% in 2008. The share of eligible voters who were Asian also increased, from 3.3% in 2004 to 3.4% in 2008. In contrast, the share of eligible voters who were white fell from 75.2% in 2004 to 73.4% in 2008.

With population growth and increased voter participation among blacks, Latinos and Asians, members of all three groups cast more votes in 2008 than in 2004. Two million more blacks and 2 million more Latinos reported voting in 2008 than said the same in 2004. Among Asians, 338,000 more votes were reported cast in 2008 than in 2004. The number of white voters in 2008 was also up, but only slightly-increasing from 99.6 million in 2004 to 100 million in 2008.

The Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data also finds a distinct regional pattern in the state-by-state increases in turnout. From 2004 to 2008, the greatest increases were in Southern states with large black eligible voter populations: Mississippi (where the voter turnout rate was up 8 percentage points), Georgia (7.5 points), North Carolina (6.1 points) and Louisiana (6.0 points). It also increased in the District of Columbia (6.9 points).

The data for this report are derived from the November Voting and Registration Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a monthly survey of about 55,000 households conducted by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The November Voting and Registration Supplement is one of the richest sources available of information about the characteristics of voters. It is conducted after Election Day and relies on survey respondent self-reports of voting and voter registration.

by Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center, and Paul Taylor, Executive Vice President, Pew Research Center

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1 – In this report, “whites” refer to non-Hispanic whites, “blacks” refer to non-Hispanic blacks and “Asians” refers to non-Hispanic Asians. Hispanics can be of any race.

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