The Emerging American Voter: An Examination of the Increase in the Black Vote in November 1998

June 2000
Working Paper Number: POP-WP044
Avalaura L. Gaither and Eric C. Newburger
The Emerging American Voter

Paper discussing certain demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of citizens, and similar patterns of voting participation by age, educational attainment, family income, and tenure.

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In the 1998 congressional election, only 45.3 percent of the voting-age citizen population reported voting. This percentage was the lowest turnout recorded since 1942. While voting rates decreased amongst the overall population, the percentage of Blacks who voted in the 1998 election increased. Between 1994 and 1998, the Black citizen vote rose from 38.8 percent to 41.9 percent, a 3.1 percentage point increase. This is the first congressional election that the Black turnout increased while the White turnout decreased. Why did this occur? Was this a one-time phenomenon or an emerging trend to be expected again in the 2000 election?

Certain demographic and socioeconomic characteristics are relatively strong indicators of voting behavior. Indeed, Whites and Blacks have similar patterns of voting participation by age, educational attainment, family income, and tenure. That is, regardless of race, older people vote more than younger people; more educated people vote more than less educated people; people from higher income families vote more than people from lower family incomes; and people who own their own homes vote more than people who rent. As a whole, the White and Black populations have distinctly different distributions among these characteristics, although there is some evidence these gaps may be narrowing. Other research suggests that the net of demographic and socioeconomic variables, such as education, Blacks are at least as likely, if not more likely, to vote as Whites.

Using data from the Voting and Registration Supplement of the November 1994 and 1998 Current Population Survey (CPS), this paper will examine the increase in the Black vote in a period when overall voter participation is at an all time low. We will examine whether these differences result from demographic composition or some other factor. First, we will estimate logistic regressions to examine by race group which demographic variables or type of election are related to whether a person will 1) register to vote and 2) vote. Second, we will investigate which, if any other of these characteristics, may have changed during the four year period from the last Congressional election.


This paper reports the general results of research and analysis under taken by Census Staff. It has undergone a more limited review than official Census Bureau publications. This report is released to inform interested parties of research and to encourage discussion.

The views expressed in this paper are solely attributable to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the United States Census Bureau.

This poster was originally presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America (PAA), Los Angeles, CA, March 2000.