As the 2015-2016 election cycle gets underway, nonprofit voting rights group Project Vote has released a major new report that presents a comprehensive picture of disparities in the changing American electorate.
In Representational Bias in the 2012 Electorate, Project Vote’s Senior Policy Analyst, Dr. Vanessa Perez, analyzes registration and voting rates for every presidential election in the 21st century. The report examines participation for different demographic groups—according to race and ethnicity, age, gender, income, education, and other factors—to determine the ways in which the American electorate is becoming more or less representative of the citizen population.
“America is built on the ideal of a representative democracy, so it is vital that we understand the ways in which we are still short of achieving that goal,” says Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote. “Our democracy is weakened when some groups speak louder than their size warrants.”
Representational Bias in the 2012 Electorate provides comparative registration and voting data for the presidential elections of 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012, in order to trace how the composition of the electorate has changed in the 21st century, and where there is still work to be done to achieve demographic parity.
Some key findings of the report include:
- Following surges in participation in 2008, Black Americans voted in 2012 at higher rates than White Americans for the first time in modern history. Voting patterns for Whites and Blacks in 2012 were relatively proportionate to their numbers in the general population.
- However, America’s growing population of Latino citizens remains underrepresented at the polls: Latinos made up nearly 11 percent of the adult citizen population in 2012, but only 8.4 percent of the electorate.
- Young citizens also continue to be severely underrepresented in the electorate: Americans under 30 made up 21 percent of the adult citizen population in 2012, but only 15.5 percent of the voting population.
- While turnout for young voters was low in 2012, young Black voters broke this pattern, voting at much higher rates than young voters from all other ethnic groups.
- Continuing historic patterns, the 2012 electorate skewed much wealthier than the general population. Less than half of adult citizens making under $25,000 a year voted in 2012, compared to 73.6 percent of those earning over $100,000 dollars.
- Gender and marital status are positively associated with higher registration and turnout figures. Women are typically more likely to participate in elections than men, and being married increases the likelihood that an individual will register and vote.
The report shows that, if disparities in participation had been eliminated in 2012, tens of millions more Americans would have voted:
- If non-White Americans had participated at the same rates as White Americans, 5 million more votes would have been cast in 2012.
- If people under 30 had participated at the same rate as those over 30, 9.7 million more votes would have been cast.
- If people making less that $25,000 a year had participated at the same rate as those making $100,000 or more, 11.5 million additional votes would have been cast.
- If people with a high-school education or less had turned out at the same rate as those who had attended college, 19.1 million more votes would have been cast.
- If persons with disabilities had turned out at the same rate as people with no reported disabilities, 1.5 million more votes would have been cast.
Looking ahead to 2016, it is clear that there is still enormous work to be done to ensure that the voice of the electorate successfully reflects the needs and interests of all Americans.
“To accomplish a truly representative democracy,” Dr. Perez writes in Representational Bias, “it is crucial to advance policies that facilitate registration and voting for all Americans, particularly for groups that are historically underrepresented in the American electorate. Such efforts must include improved enforcement of federal voting rights laws (particularly the NVRA); adoption of policies that are shown to increase registration and voting (such as online registration, early voting, and same-day registration); and laws that facilitate, instead of hinder, the important efforts of community-based voter registration drives. Doing so will greatly improve the health of American democracy.”
The full Representational Bias in the 2012 Electorate report is available at http://bit.ly/repbias2012. A summary of key findings, and individual tables and charts from the report, are also available to download separately.