It seems like every couple weeks we learn something new about last November’s election turnout. It’s pretty safe to say it’s an election that will be analyzed from many different angles for years and years to come, so these reports will be a soothing constant in your life. Or something.
The latest is Pew Research study that examines the racial demographic breakdown of 2008 voters. The findings? It was the most racially diverse electorate in the history of the country. Awesome, right? Yes, certainly, but it does leave some questions unanswered.
Firstly, even at this peak, people of color made up just 23.7% of the vote, despite making up just over 25% of the national population. While that’s certainly much higher than in previous elections, it still means there are thousands of folks not coming out to the polls who could be. There’s work to be done!
And secondly, these numbers reflect overall turnout, most likely spurred by the highly-publicized presidential contest, and doesn’t track which races the voters actually participated in. One thing we’ve seen time and time again is a high drop-off rate in local elections – that is to say, if 100,000 people go vote for president, 90,000 might also vote in the next race down the ballot (say, the Governor), and only 87,000 fill out ballots for their local representatives. One of the key questions from 2008 is how high that drop-off rate was, and – more difficult – who stuck around. If the drop-off rates are higher in communities of color, then it shows just how important engagement and organizing on the state and local level really is.