An important election survey that reveals patterns in voting and registration is the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey November Voting and Registration Supplement, or CPS for short. The 2012 CPS reveals insights to major stories about the election divined from the exit polls: the changing face of the electorate and the role of young people in determining the outcome of the presidential election. As I suggested previously, the increasing diversity of the 2012 electorate was a partially a turnout story, with non-Hispanic Whites modestly withdrawing from the electorate. The CPS further documents how it is also a story of the inevitable trend of increasing diversity of the country. Perhaps the most revealing new finding is a dramatic decrease in the youth vote, which has important ramifications for future elections.
Among the major stories that emerged from the media’s 2012 exit polls was how the non-White share of the electorate increased by two percentage points from 2008. The exit polls are, of course, only a survey of voters. The Census Bureau’s CPS survey illuminates how turnout played a factor in the increasing non-White composition of the electorate, as suggestively evident in the aggregate election results.
According to the CPS, non-Hispanic White citizen voting-age population turnout rate decreased from 2008 to 2012 from 64.4% to 62.2%, or 2.2 percentage points. In raw terms, 1.3 million fewer non-Hispanic Whites voted in 2008 than 2012. While the country is becoming more ethnically diverse, non-Hispanic Whites are not experiencing a negative growth rate, rather other races and ethnicities are outpacing non-Hispanic White population growth. Comparatively, African-Americans experienced a small turnout rate increase — although, I discuss below how this increase is an artifact of non-response bias. Even though the Hispanic turnout rate decreased 1.9 percentage points, 1.4 million more Hispanics voted in 2012 compared to 2008.
Thus, part of the changing face of the American electorate is a turnout rate story, with a small decline in non-Hispanic White turnout rates compared to other races. Part of it is also a true change in the composition of the country’s citizenry, as the country becomes more diverse.