Blog Archive

Archives by Month:

May 2010

Was the 2008 presidential election a voting boom or bust?

Obama T-shirt, McCain T-Shirt, 2008 voters

Do you really know who voted in 2008?


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.     

D.C. Data Conference: A Meeting of the Minds

From May 12 -14, our staff attended the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) bi-annual meeting in Washington, D.C. NNIP is a project of the Urban Institute that helps integrate neighborhood-level information systems with local policymakers and community leaders.

The conference was a welcome opportunity for Data Driven Detroit to network with other data organizations and share recent work, new ideas and community solutions.  We know that your eyes may have glazed over, and you would have had a hard time hiding your yawns. But for us, it was a rare opportunity to engage with folks that are truly interested in numbers, methodology, metadata, and how our work can help transform communities.

One of the highlights was a presentation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) about its 2010-2015 Strategic Plan.  HUD Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Raphael Bostic was present to review the five goals laid out in the plan: 1) Strengthen the Nation’s Housing Market to Bolster the Economy and Protect Consumers, 2) Meet the Need for Quality Affordable Rental Homes, 3) Utilize Housing as a Platform for Improving Quality of Life, 4) Build Inclusive and Sustainable Communities Free From Discrimination, and 5) Transform the Way HUD Does Business.

Raphael Bostic, HUD

HUD Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic

We were particularly intrigued by this statement in HUD’s executive summary about the importance of policy backed by good data:

In the last quarter century, a golden era of innovation was unlocked. This innovation, coupled with advances in tech­nology and management and the use of data and evidence-based policy, has helped create a New Business Model in places that have adapted to these changes, bringing a new accountability to the public sector. …We believe a new business model can unlock a much broader scale of transformation—both within HUD and more broadly with the potential to fundamentally change the way federal government works.

HUD wants to make more information available to their customers so that resources can be targeted. According to the plan, they are committed to “taking the holistic, cross-cutting view of community development required to make the biggest difference on the ground.”  Mr. Bostic, both during his presentation and after a question and answer session, left the data people gathered at the conference with a feeling of hope that somewhere behind the curtain, the culture is changing in D.C.

In a strange way, we were comforted by the fact that Detroit is not the only region wrestling with tough issues these days.  Many of our partners in states with manufacturing-based economies are also grappling with the effects of the decline of manufacturing in this country; many suffer from racial tensions similar to our own; most see the same urban-suburban disparities so characteristic of our metro area.

Still, they are rooting for Detroit to get back on its feet, and for our region to move forward.  We left D.C. with a renewed confidence that by sharing good information and forming evidence-based policies, the citizens of our region can find a way through our current challenges toward a brighter, more prosperous, equitable and sustainable future.

Embracing diversity requires even-handedness

Left-handers are people, too!

 Only seven to ten percent of the adult population is left handed, but I grew up in a family where being right-handed (like me) stood out –  my father, mother and sister were left-handed. I married a right-hander and, sure enough, our first child was left-handed. I had heard the awful stories of children being forced to give up their left-handedness, often leading to lasting emotional trauma. 

 There are places where left-handedness is considered a virtue, like in boxing, tennis and baseball. Sportscasters can go on for hours regarding the merits of left-handed pitchers vs. left-handed batters. But even in sports, left-handedness can be a liability. The only left-handed golfer I know who has made it to the top of the game is Phil Mickelson.  While my mother learned to golf from the right side, my father did not.  When he approached the tee, his playing partners scattered.  Just watching that club approach the ball from the “wrong” side made them nervous.

Many tools and devices are designed to be comfortably used with the right hand. For example, scissors are arranged so that the cutting line can be seen by a right-handed user, but is obscured for a left-handed user.  So-called ambidextrous scissors do not help, since the cutting blades are still set right-handed.

The left-handed learning style

When Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain took the stage for the presidential debates, attentive viewers may have noticed both candidates scribbling notes with their left hands. Political junkies will remember that such a curiosity has occurred before: In 1992, all three contenders — George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot — were southpaws.

In the race for the White House, lefties seem to have the upper hand. Six of the 12 chief executives since the end of World War II have been left-handed: Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, the elder Bush, Clinton and Obama. That’s a disproportionate number, considering that only one in 10 people in the general population is left-handed.  

For nearly all right-handers, language abilities reside exclusively on one side of the brain — usually the left, which controls the right hand. But one in seven lefties process language on both sides of the brain, possibly because using their left hands during childhood stimulated the development of the right half.  The benefits of being a lefty aren’t only verbal. Many artists and great political thinkers were lefties — Pablo Picasso and Benjamin Franklin, for example.

Here are some more interesting facts about left-handed people from UCLA neurobehavioral geneticist Daniel Geschwind:  

  • There is a slightly higher percentage of left-handers than in the general population among MIT professors, musicians and architects.
  • People with autism and schizophrenia are more likely to be left-handed.
  • Left-handers are about twice as likely as right-handers to have left-handed children.
  • Left-handers typically score higher on IQ tests and for nonstandard methods of problem solving.

 My life with lefties made me concerned to read of some recent research coming out of England. Lauren Milsom, author of the book Your Left-handed Child, argues that “right-bias” still holds back as many as one-in-10 children in the UK.   She claims that “Pupils may be underachieving in subjects such as English, science, computing, cookery and design technology because of a lack of specialist equipment and “ignorance” of left-handedness among teachers.”It seems that educators may have acknowledged, but not necessarily adapted to, the idea of different learning styles among our children—including left-handedness.  Will we strive to accommodate these children in ways similar to those who write with their right-hand, or continue to put them at a disadvantage?  Celebrate diversity and make that playing field level!