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Minority report: 3 big trends in the Census Bureau's voting data

New census report shows rising numbers of minority voters, turning out at higher rates, just as the white vote is declining. For Republicans, demographics may be destiny, unless the GOP finds ways to adapt.

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / May 9, 2013

Citizenship advocates in the audience listen as the Senate Judiciary Committee meets Thursday to examine proposed changes to immigration reform legislation that aims to put some of the 11 million immigrants in the US illegally on a path to citizenship. A new Census Bureau report finds that, if current trends persist, the US will become a majority-minority nation in three decades.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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If you had any doubts, it’s now official: When it comes to minorities, the GOP is not rocking the vote. That’s according to new data from the US Census Bureau, released Wednesday, that shows that record levels of black voters, as well rising numbers of minority voters, are turning out at the polls just as the white vote is declining. Unless Republicans can change their batting average with minorities, the data suggest they could strike out of office in future elections by dint of sheer demographics.

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As Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University in Washington, earlier told the Monitor, “the GOP [is] on the wrong side of history, demographically speaking.”

But fear not, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, all is not lost for the Grand Old Party. While the data show overwhelming support for President Obama among black and other minority voters in 2012, opportunities still exist for Republicans in two major voting cohorts, ones that will swell in coming years, to boot: the Hispanic and youth vote.

Here are three important lessons we learned about voting trends:

Black voters turned out in record numbers

Talk about rocking the vote. For the first time since 1968, when the Census Bureau began tracking voting and race, black voter turnout exceeded white voter turnout: 66.2 percent versus 64.1 percent. And according to CNN exit polls, the vast majority of black voters – some 93 percent – voted for Mr. Obama.

That’s a significant turnaround: As recently as 1996, blacks had turnout rates 8 percentage points lower than whites. Today, not only are black voter turnout rates rising, but white turnout rates are falling. About 2 million fewer whites voted in 2012 compared with 2008, contributing to a two percentage point decrease in turnout rates.

For a voting cohort that pollsters expected wouldn’t turn out – due to voter ID laws, high unemployment among blacks, and low rates of registration and access to polling stations – blacks proved they can defy expectations. 

We see two major reasons behind the surging turnout rates: the “Obama effect” and, well, defiance. Just as in 2008, black voters turned out to reelect Obama, the nation’s first black president and an exceptionally strong candidate for motivating minority voters.

As for defiance, here’s our theory: Some Republican legislators’ efforts to increase voter ID requirements and make registration more difficult backfired, as blacks, urged on by civil rights groups, turned out in large numbers to demonstrate their right to vote.

As Marvin Randolph, the NAACP's senior vice president for campaigns, told The New York Times, “We are accustomed to people trying to deny us things, and I think sometimes you wake the sleeping giant, and that’s what happened here.” 

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