Higher black voting rates in 2008 mostly occurred in South, report says

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010; A05

A sharp rise in African American voting rates in the 2008 presidential election was largely a Southern phenomenon, according to a Census analysis of voting patterns released Wednesday.

The South was the only region in the country where the voting rate among blacks increased sizably from the 2004 election, from 59 percent to 66 percent. The West, Northeast and Midwest had smaller increases in black voting rates, but they did not represent a significant change, the Census said.

The report, an analysis of raw data released last year, offers a more nuanced view of results from the election, in which an African American was on the ballot for president in the general election for the first time.

About 64 percent of voting-age Americans went to the polls. Nationally, 5 million more Americans voted than four years earlier, including 2 million more African Americans and 2 million more Hispanics. But the voting-age population increased by 9 million during that period, so the turnout rate remained roughly the same and the percentage of registered voters decreased slightly.

Political scientists and voting rights advocates said the jump in the number of Southern black voters was larger than in other regions because African Americans there had historically voted at lower rates than blacks outside the South. In 2008, only the Midwest had a higher black turnout rate, at 67 percent, and the West and Northeast lagged behind the South.

Hilary O. Shelton, vice president of advocacy and policy for the NAACP, said the voting rate for African Americans has risen since 2000, when 57 percent voted. The figure rose to 60 percent in 2004 and 65 percent in 2008.

"There has been a strong push throughout the South, where African American votes were historically suppressed," he said.

The Census Bureau analysis found voting rate increases among young and middle-age black Southerners, but no increase among black voters 65 and older. Voting by non-Hispanic white voters over 65 did increase, though, and about 4 million more Southerners went to the polls in 2008 than in 2004.

The report was based on a survey of about 60,000 households, or about 92,000 voting-age adults.

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