Was the 2008 presidential election a voting boom or bust?

The 2008 Presidential election generated more excitement and youth involvement than any in recent memory. The Census Bureau has just released the demographic characteristics of the voters in the 2008 general election and we can now see what the real[1] turnout numbers look like. I think the results will surprise you.           

Let us start with the fact that, while the number of votes in 2008 was up by 5.4 million above the 2004 number, the actual percentage turnout for the nation was less – 63.6 percent turned out in 2008 vs. 63.8 percent in 2004. Who knew?           

Where were the voters?          

Nineteen states experienced an increased turnout, but the South was the only region where that increase was statistically significant: Mississippi (+8.0%), Georgia (+7.4%), North Carolina (+6.1%), Louisiana (+6.1%), Virginia (+5.6%), and the District of Columbia (+4.9%).            

The Midwest and Northeast showed significant decreases while the West showed no change. Michigan voter turnout was up only 0.7 percent to a total of 67.8 percent, ranking  12th nationally (tied with South Dakota). This compares to a turnout of 67.1 percent in 2004, ranking 18th.           

Who were the voters?           

It’s also interesting that African-American voter turnout was not as high as one would anticipate given Barack Obama’s historic campaign. African Americans did experience the largest increase in voter turnout between 2004 and 2008, but it was only about a 5 percent jump (from 60.0% to 64.7%).  African-American voter turnout has been steadily increasing since 1996.           

Asian and Latino voter turnout also increased  between 2004 and 2008 – 44.1 percent to 47.6% for Asians and 47.2% to 49.95 for Latinos.  Only White, non-Hispanics voted at a lower rate in 2008 than 2004, going from 67.2 to 66.1%.           

Once again voter turnout rates were influenced by age (65-74 year olds were highest), education (those with advanced degrees were highest), marital status (married persons were highest), employment status (those with a job were highest), housing tenure (homeowners were highest), duration of residence (those in same home for 5+ years were highest), veteran status (veterans were highest), and income  (those in $75,000-$99,999 beat out those at $100,000+).           

In his May 23, 2010 column in the Detroit Free Press, Ron Dzwonkowski spoke to the need for our youngest voters (those 18-24 years) to turn out in greater numbers than they have in the past as Michigan approaches primaries in August and a general election in November.  While it is true that they have the lowest turnout rate of all age groups (58.5 percent in 2008 vs. 78.15 percent for those 65-74 years), they were the only age group to show a statistically significant increase over 2004. This marks the second straight election in which they have accomplished this feat.           

While I echo Ron’s plea, I feel the need to expand it to all age group and segments of the population.  Whether you like politics or not, the outcomes of elections greatly affect our the health and welfare of our citizens and our region.  We must get involved. We must all vote.           

[1] “Real” is very subjective in that the Census results are derived from survey responses.  Past research has shown that respondents often want to look good to their interviewers and thus will report having registered and voted when one or both is not true.  While such responses are not widespread, it has been found that Census numbers often overestimate actual voting counts.  While the Census reports 131.14 million votes, election summaries total 129.39 million votes for Obama and McCain.  We can assume that additional votes for others might bring the actual count to 130 million.