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.
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.
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.