The percentage of blacks voting in the 2012 presidential election -- 66.2 percent -- was higher than the rate for non-Hispanic whites -- 64.1 percent -- for the first time since the U.S. Census Bureau began publishing statistics on eligible voters in 1996, officials said Wednesday.
Blacks were the only race or ethnic group to show a significant increase in their likelihood of voting between 2008 and 2012, rising from 64.7 percent in 2008 to 66.2 percent in 2012, according to estimates in the bureau's new report, "The Diversified Electorate -- Voting Rates by Race and Hispanic Origin in 2012 (and Other Recent Elections)."
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Blacks' voting rate increase in 2012 followed a "long-term trend," the bureau said.
"Overall, Black turnout rates increased by about 13 percentage points between 1996 and 2012," according to the report, going from trailing non-Hispanic whites by about 8 percentage points "to surpassing them in 2012."
Still, non-Hispanic whites' percentage of the voting population, 73.7, continued to be higher than their proportion of the eligible electorate, 71.1 percent.
Thom File, a bureau sociologist and the report's author, said the analysis shows the "American electorate is growing increasingly diverse."
"Blacks voted at rates higher than their eligibility indicates," File added. The report found eligible black voters made up 12.5 percent of the electorate, but comprised 13.4 percent of the voters in 2012.
File declined to comment on what impact President Barack Obama's status as the nation's first African-American president, elected to a second term in 2012, had on black voter turnout.
"The analysis is focused on demographic trends," File said, "not on partisan issues."
Steven Romalewski, director of the mapping service at the CUNY Graduate Center who researches voting patterns in the New York region, said that "given the long history of disenfranchisement in the United States," the black voting rate was "an important milestone for the country."
However, Romalewski said the report showed a "more mixed story." He pointed to the decline in the overall voter turnout rate -- which dropped from 63.6 percent in 2008 to 61.8 percent in 2012 -- and large decreases in youth voting in all race and ethnic groups. The rate among 18- to 24-year-old voters declined by 6.7 percent and dropped 7.4 percent among 25- to 44-year-old voters, during the period.
"I think there's still a good ways to go to meet a goal of having a much more informed and active voting population," Romalewski said.
The report found the number of non-Hispanic whites who went to the polls decreased by about 2 million between 2008 and 2012.
"Since 1996, this is the only example of a race group showing a decrease in net voting from one presidential election to another," the report said, "and it indicates that the 2012 voting population expansion came primarily from minority voters."
According to the report, nearly 133 million Americans cast ballots in 2012, 2 million more than in 2008.