The Census Bureau yesterday verified what initial Associated Press data suggested: turnout among black voters for the first time topped that among whites in 2012. That shift may have affected the results in some states — and could affect perceptions of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court is currently reviewing.
According to the Bureau's review of the November election, 66.2 percent of registered black voters went to the polls, compared to 64.1 percent of white voters — and only 61.8 percent of voters overall. The election marks the first time that turnout in the African-American community has been higher than in other ethnic groups.
Black turnout was highest in Wisconsin, Mississippi, and North Carolina. The lowest percentages — of eligible black voters, not of voters overall — were in Arizona, Washington, and Arkansas. (Many states have African-American populations too small for the Census Bureau to track; those states are in white in the interactive map below. Otherwise, the darker the color of the state in the map, the higher the turnout.)
Looking at a map of the results in 2012, it's hard to see a strong correlation between that turnout and electoral results. Here's how each state voted, using the traditional red/Republican, blue/Democrat format.
The effect comes into sharper relief when you look at the margin of black turnout — in other words, how much black voters turned out compared to voters on the whole. That gives us this map, wherein darker shaded states indicate higher turnout compared to the voting population, and lighter shades indicate lower margins.
Swing states — Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin — had black turnout that was higher than the rest of the population, perhaps in part due to turnout efforts in those states.
With the Supreme Court currently reviewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, mandating, among other things, that certain states subject new voting plans to the Department of Justice before implementation, it's worth seeing how turnout did in those states. Below are the states that have some form of mandated review, or preclearance.
As may be clear from the maps above, those states didn't see lower-than-average black turnout. In fact, averaging both turnout and deviance from the norm in those Voting Rights Act (VRA) states, we see that they outperformed non-VRA ones.
This data carries a heavy caveat, of course. The 2012 election featured the nation's first African-American president facing off against a not-terribly-popular white Republican. And Voting Rights Act states are commonly ones in which there's a higher percentage of African-Americans; racism against that community is why Congress stepped in to create the VRA in the first place.
The true test will likely come in 2016, when Obama is not on the ticket. It's very likely that black turnout is no longer the highest during that election. And there's a small chance that Latino turnout will be.