Black people voted at a higher rate than white people in November's presidential election -- the first time this has happened nationwide since the U.S. Census Bureau started tracking it in 1968.

But the bureau doesn't forecast what this might mean for future elections, and other experts say it'll depend on how candidates and parties appeal to voters.

Nationwide, 66.2 percent of eligible blacks voted compared with 64.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 48 percent of Hispanics and 47.3 percent of Asians, according to the Census Bureau's new report.

File: Technology systems specialist Tony Aquilino handles ballots at the Marin County Registrar of Voters in San Rafael, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012.
File: Technology systems specialist Tony Aquilino handles ballots at the Marin County Registrar of Voters in San Rafael, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012. (IJ photo/Alan Dep) (Alan Dep)

Much of the heaviest black turnout was in eastern and southern states. In California, non-Hispanic whites still turned out at the highest rate -- 64.3 percent -- compared with 61.1 percent of blacks, 48.6 percent of Asians and 48.5 percent of Hispanics. But the relatively small survey sample within each state means higher margins of error, making these numbers less accurate.

"Over the last five presidential elections, the share of voters who were racial or ethnic minorities rose from just over one in six in 1996 to more than one in four in 2012," said Census Bureau sociologist Thom File, the report's author.

In other findings:


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  • After reaching a high in 2004, non-Hispanic white voting rates have dropped in two consecutive elections. Rates for whites dropped from 66.1 percent in 2008 to 64.1 percent in 2012

  • The gender gap in voting remains: Women have voted at higher rates than men in every presidential election since 1996 -- and 2012 was no different, with women leading men by about four percentage points. The gap was especially wide among black voters, where women led men by nine points; Asians were the only group with no significant gender gap.

    Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, sees two reasons for the surging black vote.

    "First, African-Americans have been energized by the historic candidacy of Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012," he said. "Second, the increase in 2012 is almost certainly due to the extensive, sophisticated voter targeting efforts of the Obama campaign. Black communities across the nation, especially in swing states, were mined for the maximum number of available votes.

    "Mitt Romney simply didn't excite swing whites in many voter groups, including the young, blue-collars and women. Also, as is now clear, the Romney campaign's voter contact and get-out-the-vote efforts left a lot to be desired."

    The lesson for Democrats is to "do more of the same with a growing minority base in national elections," he said. "For Republicans, there are two lessons: Motivate your base among whites with better candidates and greater get-out-the-vote efforts while trying to attract more minorities to pull the GOP lever."

    Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.

    the changing electorate
    2008: 64.7 percent of eligible blacks voted, compared with 66.1 percent of whites, 49.9 percent of Hispanics and 47.6 percent of Asians
    2012: 66.2 percent of eligible blacks voted, compared with 64.1 percent of whites, 48 percent of Hispanics and 47.3 percent of Asians
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau