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This brief reviews voter turnout by sex and race according to CPS data from 1968 to 2008, and shows salient trends looking forward to the presidential election in November 2012.
According to data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), 2008 marked the fourth straight presidential election in which fewer than 60% of Americans cast a ballot. Since the CPS began tabulating voting statistics in 1964, turnout has remained on a relatively steady downward trend. Though there are exceptions in 1984, 1992, 2000, and 2004, voter turnout increased from the previous presidential election by 0.7%, 3.9%, 0.5%, and 3.6%, respectively. Overall, however, the percentage of Americans who take to the polls has decreased by 11.1% from the 1964 high of 69.3%. There are a number of other notable trends in the CPS’ voting data.
Voter Turnout Among Black Citizens
Historically, the percentage of black citizens who vote has tallied below the percentage of all citizens who vote. Since 1972, when the difference peaked at 10.9%, the gap has started to narrow. With a 1.8% decline, 1980 marked the first significant decrease in the percent difference, and 1984 followed with an even more substantial 4.6% reduction. Despite the gap widening again in 1988 and 1992, with the difference rising to 5.9% and 7.3% respectively, the difference again began to fall in 1996. In 2000, the percentage of all citizens who voted outweighed the percentage of black citizens who voted by only 1.2%. In 2008, and for the first time in a presidential election, black citizens voted at a higher rate than the greater population, outpacing all Americans by 2.6%. The rise in voter turnout among black citizens in 2008 can most likely be attributed to the presence of a black Democratic presidential nominee.
Voter Turnout Among Male Citizens
In 1964, the percentage of males who voted was 2.6% higher than the percentage of all citizens who cast their vote. This positive difference has not been surpassed in any of the eleven presidential elections since. From 1964 to 2008, the percentage of male citizens who vote has decreased in each presidential election. The first year when the difference became negative was 1980, when 59.1% of male citizens voted in comparison to 59.2% of all citizens. The 2008 election had the greatest negative disparity, with the difference at -2.5%.
Voter Turnout Among Female Citizens
Conversely, from 1964 to 2008, the percentage of female citizens who vote has risen relative to the percentage of all citizens who vote. In 1964, the percentage of female citizens who cast their ballots was 2.3% less than the percentage of all citizens who voted. That difference has decreased in every election since, with 1980 marking the first year when the percentage of female citizens who voted was .2% greater than the percentage of all citizens who voted. In 2008, 60.4% of female citizens took to the polls, which was 2.2% higher than the percentage of all citizens who voted, marking the greatest positive difference for women since 1964.
Voter Turnout Among Citizens Aged 24-44
Since 1964, the percentage of citizens aged 24 to 44 who vote has never exceeded the percentage of all citizens who vote. In fact, the difference has continued to increase. 1964 and 1968 marked election years when the difference was the smallest, at -0.3%. Despite small decreases in the disparity in 1972, 1992 and 2000 compared to the previous election years, the gap widened with relative consistency to its high in 2008 at -6.3%.
Voter Turnout Among Citizens Aged 65 and Older
In the age group of 65 and older, the elections of 1964 and 1968 were the only years in which a smaller percentage of its subset voted, as compared with the entire voting population. From 1972 to 2000, the positive difference grew (the lone exception being 1992, when the difference dropped from 11.4% in 1988 to 8.8%); however, in the past two elections, the 65 and older age group has seen the gap close, with the percent difference decreasing from 12.9% in 2000 to 10.6% percent in 2004, and to 9.9% in 2008. Despite this trend, 9.9% still marks the highest positive difference among any of the age groups and racial groups surveyed in the CPS.