“Blacks have been voting at higher rates, and the Hispanic and Asian populations are growing rapidly, yielding a more diverse electorate,” said Thom File, a census sociologist who wrote the voting analysis. “Over the last five presidential elections, the share of voters who were racial or ethnic minorities rose from just over 1 in 6 in 1996 to more than 1 in 4 in 2012.”
“We do know the population is growing more diverse, and the electorate is growing more diverse in a different way,” File added.
Other census findings:
—White turnout declined in 39 states from 2008 to 2012, including presidential battleground states such as Ohio, Virginia and Florida.
—The gender gap in voting persists, a trend since 1996. About 64 percent of women voted, compared with 60 percent of men.
—Declines in voter turnout also were seen most notably among single people, the unemployed, renters and those with only a high school education or some college, suggesting in part voter disenchantment amid a sluggish economy.
—Black voter turnout surpassed that of whites mostly in the Midwest region, which covers Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as the Southern U.S. region including Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Demographers say the numbers pose long-term challenges for Republicans, given that 80 percent of nonwhites voted for Obama in November.
Analyses by Brookings Institution demographer William H. Frey show that Republican Mitt Romney would have barely won the presidency if whites and other race groups had turned out at the same rates as they did in 2004, when black turnout was below its current historic levels. But if Democrats can replicate 2012 turnout rates in 2016, they would win the presidency, given current population trends, Frey said.
Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center, indicated the economy will be an important factor in future elections, noting that Hispanics and young people were among the hardest hit during the high unemployment years of 2008-2012.
“Given what we know about the youth bulge in the population, Millennials and Hispanics will become ever more important voting blocs in upcoming presidential elections,” Taylor said. “But in 2012, both groups left a lot of votes on the table.”
The census figures are based on the Current Population Survey as of November 2012. Since Hispanic is defined by the government as an ethnicity and not a race, census figures for “blacks” and “Asians” may include Hispanics. Census data for “white” refer to whites who are not of Hispanic ethnicity.