- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2009

For all the global attention generated by Barack Obama’s candidacy, the share of eligible voters who actually cast ballots in November declined for the first time in a dozen years. The reason - Older whites with little interest in backing either Mr. Obama or Republican rival John McCain stayed home.

Census figures released Monday show about 63.6 percent of the nation’s eligible voters, or 131.1 million people, voted in November.

Although that represented an increase of 5 million voters - virtually all of them minorities - the turnout relative to the population of eligible voters was a decrease from 63.8 percent in 2004.

Ohio and Pennsylvania were among those showing declines in white voters, helping Mr. Obama carry those battleground states.

“While the significance of minority votes for Obama is clearly key, it cannot be overlooked that reduced white support for a Republican candidate allowed minorities to tip the balance in many slow-growing ‘purple’ states,” said William H. Frey, a demographer for the Brookings Institution, referring to key battleground states that don’t reliably tilt toward either of the major parties.

“The question I would ask is if a continuing stagnating economy could change that,” he said.

According to census data, 66 percent of whites voted in November, down one percentage point from 2004. Blacks increased their turnout by five percentage points to 65 percent, nearly matching whites. Hispanics improved turnout by three percentage points, and Asians by 3.5 percentage points, each reaching a turnout of nearly 50 percent. In all, minorities made up nearly one in four voters in 2008, the most diverse electorate ever.

By age, voters 18 to 24 were the only group to show a statistically significant increase in turnout, with 49 percent casting ballots, compared with 47 percent in 2004.

Among whites 45 and older, turnout fell 1.5 percentage point to just under 72 percent.

Asked to identify their reasons for not voting, 46 percent of all whites said they didn’t like the candidates, weren’t interested or had better things to do, up from 41 percent in 2004. Hispanics had similar numbers for both years.

Not surprisingly, with a black man heading the Democratic ticket, blacks showed a sharp increase in interest.

Among the blacks who failed to vote last fall, most cited problems such as illness, being out of town or transportation issues. Just 16 percent of nonvoting blacks cited a lack of interest, down from 37 percent in 2004.

Among other findings:

• The decline in percentage turnout was the first in a presidential election since 1996. At that time, voter participation fell to 58.4 percent the lowest in decades as President Clinton won an easy re-election over Republican Bob Dole amid a strong economy.

• The voting rate in 2008 was highest in the Midwest (66 percent). The other regions were about 63 percent each.

• Minnesota and the District of Columbia had the highest turnout, each with 75 percent. Utah and Hawaii Obama’s birth state were among the lowest, each with 52 percent.

The figures are the latest to highlight a generational rift between younger, increasingly minority voters and an older white population.

The census figures are based on the Current Population Survey, which asked respondents after Election Day about their turnout. The figures for “white” refer to the whites who are not of Hispanic ethnicity.

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