Who Voted in 2012?

Steven Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies, May 2013

The Center for Immigration Studies has used newly released Census data to examine the November 2012 election. The new data show that the share of eligible Hispanics who voted in 2012 was lower than in 2008, while the black share was higher than in 2008. The biggest decline in eligible voters was among whites, particularly those without a college degree. Had eligible white voters turned out at the 2004 rate, 4.7 million more of them would have voted, 4.2 million without a college degree.

Among the findings:

  • Overall, 61.8 percent of eligible voters turned out in 2012, down from 63.6 percent in 2008 and 63.8 percent in 2004.
  • Prior to the election there was speculation that Hispanics would be particularly animated in 2012. However, this turned out not to be the case. Only 48.0 percent of eligible Hispanics voted, down from 49.9 percent in 2008. The 2012 turnout was similar to 2004, when 47.2 percent voted.
  • Hispanics were 8.4 percent of voters (11.2 million), close to the 8.9 percent the Center for Immigration Studies projected prior to the November election.1 If Hispanic turnout had been what it was in 2008, 450,000 more Hispanics would have voted.
  • Whites were also unengaged in the election, with a 64.1 percent turnout among eligible voters, down from 66.1 percent in 2008 and 67.2 percent in 2004. (There is a break in the continuity of data by race, so elections prior to 2004 are not directly comparable to more recent presidential elections.)2
  • If white turnout had been what it was in 2004, 4.7 million more of them would have voted. Of the 4.7 million whites who sat home on Election Day relative to 2004, 4.2 million did not have a bachelor’s degree.

The President received five million more votes than Governor Romney. What would have it taken for Romney to have won at least a plurality of the popular vote?3 (This does not mean Romney would have won the election since the Electoral College determines the outcome.)

  • If Governor Romney had increased his share of the women’s vote by four percentage points, from the 44 percent he actually received to 48 percent, then he would have won the popular vote. Each percentage point of the female vote equaled 714,000 votes.
  • If Governor Romney had increased his share of the black vote by 15 percentage points, from the 6 percent he actually received to 21 percent, then he would have won the popular vote. Each percentage point of the black vote equaled 172,000 votes.
  • If Governor Romney had increased his share of the Hispanic vote by 23 percentage points, from the 27 percent he actually received to 50 percent, then he have won the popular vote. Each percentage point of the Hispanic vote equaled 112,000 votes.4
  • If Governor Romney had increased his share of the white vote by three percentage points, from the 59 percent he actually received to 62 percent, then he would have won the popular vote. Each percentage point of the white vote equaled 980,000 votes.

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Conclusion

The Voting and Registration Supplement collected by the Census Bureau is a valuable data source for examining who was eligible to vote and who actually voted. The voting supplement results, reported in the tables, show the great diversity of the American electorate. The electorate is comprised of numerous overlapping voting blocs. Many factors influence voting decisions, including race, education, income, gender, occupation, marital status, and age. Furthermore, there is ideology, party identification, religion, and voters’ perception of a candidates’ character that are not included in the Census data, but certainly matter a great deal. It would be a mistake to think of the electorate as one dimensional.

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