(FinalCall.com) – When Joaquin Patterson went to the polls last November it was the first time he had voted since turning 18, 12 years earlier. He was not alone. Huge numbers of Black, Hispanic and young voters added to the historical context of the 2008 presidential campaign with their largest increase in voters, according to a July 20 Census report.
“I didn’t see any real reason to vote,” he told The Final Call. “But with President Obama I heard something that moved me and my friends. We wanted to be a part of what he wanted to build in America.”
“I can hardly believe I’m saying this but we bought what he was selling. We believed in him to make this place a better world for everybody.”
About 131 million people also felt moved to vote in that election, an increase of 5 million from 2004. The increase included about 2 million more Black voters, 2 million more Hispanic voters and about 600,000 more Asian voters, while the number of non-Hispanic White voters remained unchanged.
Voters 18 to 24 were the only age group to show a significant increase in turnout, reaching 49 percent in 2008 compared with 47 percent in 2004.
Blacks had the highest turn-out rate among 18- to 24-yearold voters–55 percent, an 8 percent increase from 2004. The increased turnout among certain demographic groups was offset by stagnant or decreased turnout among other groups, causing overall 2008 voter turnout to remain statistically unchanged– at 64 percent–from 2004.
“The 2008 presidential election saw a significant increase in voter turnout among young people, Blacks and Hispanics,” said Thom File, a voting analyst with the Census Bureau’s Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division.
“But as turnout among some other demographic groups either decreased or remained unchanged, the overall 2008 voter turnout rate was not statistically different from 2004.” While “statistically” things may have remained the same because older Whites stayed home, for millions of voters the past election was anything but business as usual.
“We knew Black youth influenced the outcome of the election and will do so for years to come,” said Melanie L. Campbell, executive director and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “Today’s Census report backs up our findings.”
Although the youngest voters were the only age group to show a statistically significant increase in turnout, voting did tend to increase with age. In 2008, younger citizens (18-24) had the lowest voting rate (49 percent), while citizens who fell into older age groups (45-64 and 65-plus) had the highest voting rates (69 percent and 70 percent, respectively).
“We knew our work made a difference’” said William Kellibrew, national coordinator of Black Youth Vote!, the young adult division of The National Coalition.
“This report is confirmation of the success of Black Youth Vote! Since The National Coalition started the young adult division our work has helped to inspire a new commitment to service and civic engagement among 18-24 year-olds.”
The National Coalition’s Black Youth Vote! worked in 12 states registering new voters, educating voters on their rights at the polls, and urging them to VOTE FIRST. The National Coalition credits their VOTE FIRST Campaign with reducing the problems at the polls on Election Day.
“We did the traditional outreach at events and beauty salons, but we also used new technology and enlisted the help of celebrities like rapper Bow Wow and the comedian Shang, to reach out to young voters,” said Ms. Campbell.
“We also registered new voters online and used email and text messaging to contact young voters and make sure they voted early.”
“By combining old-school civic engagement tactics with new school technology we surpassed our goals. An eight percent increase in participation among 18-24 year-olds demonstrated the power of that demographic and will definitely go down in history,” said Richard Womack, Sr. chair of the national coalition.
Programs such as Black Youth Vote and Respect My Vote, spearheaded by the Hip Hop Caucus, helped compel young and old to go to the polls. The voting rate was highest in the Midwest (66 percent), while the rates in the West, Northeast and South were about 63 percent each.
Among states, voting rates varied widely. Among states and state-equivalents with the highest voter turnout were Minnesota and the District of Columbia, each with voting rates of about 75 percent. Hawaii and Utah were among the states with the lowest turnouts, each with approximately 52 percent.
By sex, women had a higher voting rate (66 percent) than males (62 percent). Neither was statistically different from 2004.