The United States saw dramatic increases in voting from traditionally underrepresented groups, including minorities and young voters, according to a new analysis released this week by Project Vote. If borne out by systematic analysis of the voter rolls, this change in the electorate is evidence of the power of successful voter registration drives and an indication of the strong inclination of voters to participate in the process when candidates address their issues.
Countering the conventional wisdom that the voting population on November 4 did not change as dramatically as predicted, the analysis, The Demographics of Voters in America’s 2008 General Election: A Preliminary Assessment, demonstrates that African-Americans, Latinos, and young voters cast millions more ballots in 2008 than in 2004.
“The analysis estimated that about 5.8 million more minorities voted in this year’s presidential election than in 2004, while nearly 1.2 million fewer whites went to the polls,” wrote Greg Gordon of McClatchy Newspapers. “The figures appear to reflect the success of Project Vote and other liberal voter registration groups in registering millions of young, poor, elderly and minority Americans to vote in recent election cycles.”
According to the analysis, African-Americans cast nearly three million more ballots nationwide in 2008 than in 2004-an increase of 21 percent. The total votes cast by Latinos went up by 16 percent-more than 1.5 million-and young Americans aged 18-29 cast 1.8 million more votes, a nine percent increase. That the overall totals did not increase significantly compared to 2004 was in part due to a decrease in voting by white voters.
In addition to presenting an analysis of ballots cast from the United States as a whole, the memo by Project Vote consultant and Ph.D. candidate Jody Herman and Barnard College political science professor Lorraine Minnite examines several key states in detail, including Colorado, Florida, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
The Project Vote data is preliminary, and does not speak to “turnout,” which is traditionally a measure of the percentage of the voting-eligible population that shows up to vote. Project Vote expects to release a full report on turnout in the 2008 election in 2009 when government survey data on the voting-eligible population comes available. Yet, this preliminary analysis indicates that a significant shift occurred this year.
“There is no doubt that this surge in voting by Americans of color and young people had a powerful impact on the outcome of the election,” said Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote, in a press release issued today.
“Separate opinion polls and election results themselves indicate that an overwhelming majority of African-Americans and Latinos backed Obama,” according to Gordon.
“Thus, the appearance of an African-American presidential candidate with a sympathetic message may have prompted the nation’s minorities to vote at levels approaching white voters — if final state vote counts do not upend Project Vote’s figures,” wrote AlterNet‘s Steve Rosenfeld last week. “Its findings also suggest the U.S. electorate is not an inflexible assembly of voting constituencies, but has segments that are mobilized — or demobilized — depending on the year, candidate and message,”
In an email exchange with Rosenfeld, Frank Sharry, executive director of pro-immigration reform group, America’s Voice, said “neither the turnout increase among Latinos — nor the swing in support to Democrats — were surprising.”
“Telling people you don’t like them and don’t want them is not a winning electoral strategy,” wrote Sharry. “But that is what the Republican Party has been saying to immigrants, Latino immigrants in particular, for the past four years. No surprise, then, that record numbers of Latinos turned out in 2008 and that the swing away from Republicans to Democrats among Latino immigrants in particular was dramatic.”