Skepticism About the Census Voter Turnout Finding

Paul Taylor and Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew Research, May 15, 2013

The Census Bureau made big news last week when it reported that the black voter turnout rate (66.2%) exceeded the white voter turnout rate (64.1%) for the first time ever in 2012. But a closer look at the numbers raises some intriguing questions.

It’s possible that the lines may have first crossed in 2008. But it’s also possible they may not have crossed at all.

Let’s start with the second scenario. It’s based on data that suggest that last year, blacks may have been more inclined than whites to report that they voted when in fact they didn’t. This is known as a “social desirability bias,” a familiar concern among survey researchers.

The Census Bureau bases its estimates of voter turnout on self-reports from a survey of a nationally representative sample of about 55,000 households. The survey is conducted in the two weeks after each federal election and is considered the best source of information on the demographics of the nation’s electorate. However, this self-report method typically produces a modest over-estimate of turnout, and 2012 was no exception. According to the Census Bureau’s estimates, 133 million Americans voted last year, but according to the official state-by-state tallies, just 129 million did.

Moreover, if you analyze the discrepancies by state, as the Pew Research Center has (download our Election Turnout Rates by State data in Excel), you find a pattern that casts some doubt on the Census Bureau’s announcement. It turns out that the phenomenon of over reporting tended to be most pronounced in states that have the highest share of blacks in their citizen-age electorate.

{snip} In Mississippi, the Census Bureau estimated a statewide turnout rate of 74.5%, while the actual state tallies showed a turnout rate of 60.4%—a gap of 14.1 percentage points. In Washington, the Census Bureau estimated a jurisdiction wide turnout rate of 75.9%, compared with an actual turnout rate of 63.7%—a gap of 12.2 percentage points. {snip}

Mississippi and Washington also happen to be the two jurisdictions in the country with the highest share of blacks in their voting age citizen eligible population—35% and 49%, respectively. {snip}

Might this be because non-voting blacks were more eager than non-voting whites to tell survey takers that they voted for the first ever African-American president? While there’s no way of knowing for sure, the data are suggestive. When we plotted the state discrepancies in 2008 and 2004, we found a similar pattern, but we also found the racial skew was stronger in 2008 and 2012, the two elections in which Obama was on the ballot, than in 2004.

To better understand these patterns, we computed a “correlation coefficient,” which measures the relationship between two phenomena of interest—in this case, the over reporting of turnout in a state (the difference between the estimated and official voter turnout rates) and the share of a state’s adult population that is black. Our analysis finds a positive correlation of .52 (on a scale of -1 to 1) in 2012, .54 in 2008 and .41 in 2004. If we remove the two biggest outliers in the scatter plot analysis—Mississippi and Washington—the overall correlation remains positive, but it is only about half as large.


But wait, what about the first scenario—the possibility  that this milestone actually occurred in 2008, not 2012?

That assessment is based an analysis that removes from the pool of eligible voters all adults who have been disenfranchised as a result of felony convictions, something the Census Bureau does not (and cannot) do. According to the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group, nearly 6 million adults are ineligible to vote for that reason, a disproportionate share of whom are black. If you recalculate turnout rates after removing those disenfranchised voters, then 68.5% of eligible blacks voted in 2008, compared with 67% of eligible whites, according to Bernard L. Fraga, a political scientist studying at Harvard. The Census Bureau, by contrast, had 66.1% of whites voting that year, compared with 64.7% of blacks.



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  • I could kick myself up and down the street where I live for ever believing a study or data that “showed” that the black voter participation rate was higher than the white voter participation rate. My common sense failed me.

    Speaking of, and going OT a bit, I’m not liking this meme/excuse I’m starting to hear in lamestream conservativeville that Romney didn’t win because the IRS suppressed the Tea Party movement. I can obviously believe Obama told or encouraged or established subtle cues for the IRS to do that, and they indeed did do that. But I don’t think it’s the proximate causation for Romney not winning. I think it was almost entirely matters of incumbents are hard to beat AND white conservatives didn’t want to turn out en masse just to install another open borders RINO. Which means that even if the TPM were at full strength in 2012, Romney still would have lost. I do think that once it’s all said and done, we’re going to find out that IRSgate was a bipartisan scandal, in that Obama/Democrats AND RINO Republicans (who hate the TPM, too) joined together in kahootz to put a lid on the TPM — That the IRS commissioner during most of the timeline of IRS gate was a Bush holdover is not an irrelevant fact, IMHO.

    • Anon

      It’s far worse than that. Romney was not a favorite to win anywhere except the media. Ron Paul, on the other hand, had gigantic crowds wherever he went and sold millions of books on specifically what he would do to fix our economy.

      I won’t mince words. This is the second time a GOP nomination was flagrantly, even openly rigged. Ron Paul might have gone down in history as the man that backed us away from a socialist cliff. Instead, he’s going to go down in history as the guy that proved that US elections are fraudulent.

      The left is stupid and it is going to take awhile before they admit Obama has literally stabbed them in the back on every single issue they supported him over. But conservatives well….there is no excuse for conservatives. The GOP has been slapping us in the face for generations now. They simply don’t care no matter how loudly we speak. And why should they. With rigged elections, doing what voters want is completely irrelevant.

      The recent gun grab is interesting. A truly dangerous move by the leftists that could have (and still could) spark a civil war. That is most definitely not what they want (because they would lose….badly). But it is an excellent “explanation” for how the GOP will soon, kick the dems out of almost every elected position in this country (just like the last time they tried this). Few will question it and few will care that there GOP choices give lip service to the gun issue and nothing else.

      And everything will continue the way it is now just as planned.

      • Ron Paul, on the other hand, had gigantic crowds wherever he went and sold millions of books on specifically what he would do to fix our economy.

        Except for that one nagging little part about throwing the borders wide open, and in fact, essentially erasing the borders. Don’t forget that RP was more or less for free trade, too, even though he opposed quasi-FT agreements like NAFTA and GATT. But who’s counting?

        • bigone4u

          Ron Paul advocates open borders, but no path to citizenship and no voting. Or so I read on Lew Rockwell’s web site.

          • The__Bobster

            The open borders part IS the amnesty.

      • Nathanwartooth

        That is very true about Romney winning only being in the media.

        My uncle was convinced that Romney was going to win. I went to a betting website and looked at the gambling odds for the presidential race.

        I told him that Vegas has money on the line if they are wrong, so they rarely are. They had the odds of Obama winning by a good margin. I told him that Romney is going to lose.

  • Bill

    Well, if they were too lazy to vote, but are too ashamed to tell another black that they didn’t then SOMEBODY voted for them…..and quite a few others who didn’t show up such as the dead. As always. Black voting is rampant with corruption, multi-votes, phony votes, and suppression or destruction of white ballots. Always has been. And why not? Blacks engage in every form of criminality and fraud known to man. People who kill each other over sneakers or a imagined bad look are going to be HONEST in ANYTHING???????

  • dd121

    The Demorats here in Colorado want to allow voter registration the day of an election by showing an electric bill. That can make the participation rate say 350%. Obama has brought institutionalized corruption to all levels of our government. And the Republicans snooze through this.

  • Anon

    I’d like to offer an alternative view of this data. I am going to suggest that white voter turnout has collapsed and that if black voter turnout has increased, the point is moot.

    I actually think the election of Obama marks an important turning point where such data has gone from being “massaged” to outright fabricated. Put another way, do you know anyone who is anything other than so upset with Obama they want him impeached? The answer is no. Even among blacks, few to none support Obama. The occasional jackass will go on and on about their “Obamaphone”. But look at this from a purely racially selfish point of view. Obama wiped out the entire black middle class and dispossessed them into poverty. Even the most insanely racist will draw the line at their own starvation. Blacks might be stupid (average IQ of 80) but they are not THAT stupid. There is widespread understanding of what will happen to them should welfare collapse. And it WILL collapse if Obama is allowed to continue what he is doing.

    What I am suggesting is that the vast majority of whites have now become aware that there is no political solution. There is no one to vote for and there vote doesn’t go anywhere except into the garbage can, anyway. Whites have stopped voting.

    What else are whites doing. Well, in the last 6 months they bought up every single gun from every single gun shop in the US and every shred of ammo. So much so that every ammunition source I know of is strictly rationing it. When I go shooting, my gun range is quite emphatic that you can only buy up what you can reasonable shoot that day. If I want a few thousand rounds of ammo, I have to wait for that. That situation simply didn’t exist a year ago. Demand is way, way up.

    That means something. And I don’t think it means what the media would like you to believe (that people are stocking up because they worry about it not being available later). Some of these people are prior gun owners. But most are NEW gun owners….people who previously would not consider buying but now feel a strong urge to not only buy but buy NOW.

    Why is that?

    • bigone4u

      They love Obama at HuffPo, although I am not sure that the comments sections are not rigged over there.

      • The__Bobster

        They are “moderated”, not rigged. 😉

  • borogirl54

    The only blacks that vote consistently are the little old ladies that show up at every election. Most of the youth don’t care so they do not vote. A sizable portion of them are convicted criminals so they can’t vote. The only time most of them ever tried to vote was when Obama first ran for president.

  • A problem with this article:

    That assessment is based an analysis that removes from the pool of eligible voters all adults who have been disenfranchised as a result of felony convictions

    That only applies to a few states. Most states allow convicted felons to vote after their probation is complete. Some allow them to vote once they’re released from prison. Eric Holder would love for there to be voting booths in prisons.

    • The__Bobster

      In 2008, ACORN went into the Philly area prisons to sign up convicts.

  • White Mom in WDC

    I guess my whole take on this is what’s the point? Really? This government is a joke. This country is a joke. Stick a fork in it already and keep it moving. This government sucks and most of the lame stream has the proverbial head up their arce. Duh. The election is/ was BS. That’s news? Your vote does not matter.

    The answer is secession.

    • dd121

      Secession didn’t work out so well for my ancestors even though my local tribe killed hundreds of the damn Yankees. I don’t know how well it will work out next time either. In the first war the opposing sides were geographically separate; now people who think like us are spread throughout the population. It could be messy.

      • White Mom in WDC

        I think the northwestern part of the country would be an ideal place to plant the seeds of secession.

        • Who Me?

          The northwest really is one of the few viable places a secession could work. The “plan” as outlined by Northwest Front still needs some serious tweaking, but the PLACE/TERRITORY is right. Midwest would be nice, but unfortunately it’s landlocked. Thus could be surrounded and conquered by opposing forces.The northwest has deep ports, river transport to safe inland distribution points from those ports, and miles of still largely unexplored forestland for retreat/regroup. (Besides if and when any secession efforts were to take place, the U.S. military and police would already be in shambles and disarray, largely unpaid and deserted.)

          You’ve also got a lot of people who are dissatisfied with the way the government is and has been doing things for a long time, but they are also fence-sitters and need to be shown a reason to take up arms against the government, and how to do it. Plus you’ve got the loony liberals over on the coast… In other words, the populace has to be educated. Now that could easily be done if those interested in change were to just pack up and move to the northwest. Good climate, good schools, not too many blacks, even though there are lots of Mexicans, fairly stable and improving economy–what’s not to like?

          • White Mom in WDC

            That could be a strategy. Get a community together of line minded whites and bum rush a spot. What is your opinion on Wyoming?

        • The__Bobster

          Right. The NW is full of libtards and Engelman dates. You’d have to move them out first.

          • White Mom in WDC

            Is there any place that is not polluted with libtards

  • lhathaway

    “Blacks may be lying”

    Of course they are. They’re lips are moving. . Of course, it’s an accurate esxression some times to say , ‘one is Living lie’.

    • Yorkshireman.

      Is it true that a Black can actually remember what they did two weeks ago?

  • Buttons

    We already know blacks are more likely to lie on surveys.

  • In my opinion, it does not matter who won the election.. Who voted and who didn’t is a smokescreen. Our system is corrupt and has long favored capital at the expense of labor and the environment Try to square the following facts and tell me how my vote could change things.

    1. Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are at a fifty year high

    2. Wages as a percentage of the economy are at a 40 year low.

    A massive transfer of wealth is taking place in this country. The working class is required to pay taxes while elite individuals and corporations are allowed to hide funds offshore. When the working class is forced to work in order to support the elite it is called serfdom.

    The serf doesn’t care who is in charge; his concern is whether he is producing enough for the master.

    The system is broken since it doesn’t work for the majority; all problems arise from this situation.

    • The__Bobster

      A moratorium on immigration and the deportation of the ugly brown squat monster invaders would do wonders to level wages.