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African Americans Defy Declining Voter Turnout Trend

Census examines who votes, who doesn't and why not 


African Americans were the only race or ethnic group to defy the trend of declining voter participation in congressional elections, according to data from the 1998 elections by the Census Bureau. Records show that African Americans increased their presence at the polls from 37 percent in 1994 to 40 percent in 1998.

Nationwide, overall turnout by the voting-age population was down from 45 percent in 1994 to 42 percent in 1998 -- about 3 million fewer voters in 1998 than in 1994.

Turnout by Whites declined from 50 percent to 47 percent from 1994 to 1998, while Asian and Pacific Islander turnout fell from 22 percent to 19 percent and Hispanic turnout remained at 20 percent.

Turnout also declined across all age groups and for men and women. For example, 35 percent of 25- to 44-year-olds cast ballots in 1998, down from 39 percent in 1994.

Reasons for Not Voting

Of the 40 million people who said they registered but did not vote in the 1998 election, about one-third reported they were "too busy" or had conflicting work or school schedules. Another 13 percent were not interested or felt their vote would not make a difference.

Voter Turnout Highlights

  • The West and Midwest states recorded the highest voting rates in 1998, led by Minnesota (66 percent), while the South had the lowest (Virginia was at 31 percent).

  • Among voting-age citizens, the lowest voting rates by age were for 18- to 24-year-olds, where a ratio of slightly less than 1 in 5 voted. The age group with the highest voting participation was 55- to 74-year-olds; more than 3 in 5 in this age group cast ballots.

  • Women (46 percent) were slightly more likely than men (45 percent) to vote in 1998, continuing a trend that started in 1986.

  • About 5 in 10 homeowners said they voted, compared with 3 out of 10 renters. About one-half of those living in families who voted had family incomes of more than $50,000.

  • In 1998, voting-age citizens who had bachelor's degrees were nearly twice as likely (6 in 10) to have voted as those who had not completed high school (3 in 10).

    Voter Registration Highlights

  • Voter registration between 1994 and 1998 increased for African Americans (from 59 percent to 61 percent) and Hispanics (from 31 percent to 34 percent). The rates for Whites (68 percent) and Asians and Pacific Islanders (29 percent) were the same in both elections.

  • Of the 198 million people of voting age in 1998, 62 percent said they were registered to vote. This is not significantly different from the percentage registered in the 1994 and 1990 congressional elections.

  • More than two-thirds of citizens in the Midwest were registered to vote. North Dakota (91 percent) and Minnesota (83 percent) had the highest registration rates, while many of the states with lower rates were in the West (Nevada had 52 percent).

  • The percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who were registered to vote declined from 42 percent in 1994 to 39 percent in 1998. There was no significant change for people ages 25 to 44 years.

    [Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

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