Huge Dataset of Voting Records Show Significant Racial Gap in Turnout Rates

A new study by scholars at the University of Virginia and Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, analyzed 400 million voter records from elections in 2014 and 2016 and found that minority citizens, young people, and those who support the Democratic Party are much less likely to vote than Whites, older citizens, and Republican Party supporters. Moreover, those in the former groups are also more likely to live in areas where their neighbors are less likely to vote.

The authors leveraged voter file data from the analytics firm The Data Trust. Researchers combined voter registration lists from all 50 states to create a file of approximately 400 million voter records across two election cycles; a midterm election in 2014 and the presidential election of 2016. The large dataset is unique in scope and breadth, allowing the researchers to confidently aggregate voter partisanship and turnout rates neighborhood-by-neighborhood in an unprecedented way.

The results highlight large and persistent gaps in voter turnout by race, age, and political affiliation. In 2016, White citizens voted at a rate of between 9 and 15 percentage points higher than Black citizens, Asian citizens, and Hispanic citizens in the same election. In 2014, the gaps were even more significant. Whites voted at a rate of 9 to 18 percentage points higher than these same minority groups.

“We’re finding that the circumstances of other citizens who live around you plays an important role in voter turnout,” said Michael Barber, professor of political science at Brigham Young University and co-author of the study. “Much of the country is segregated – especially by race and partisanship. Minorities are more likely to live around other minorities who are also less likely to vote. The same is true of voters of both parties. These patterns can create a situation that results in persistent patterns of lower turnout in certain communities for a variety of reasons.”

The study, “400 Million Voting Records Show Profound Racial and Geographic Disparities in Voter Turnout in the United States,” was published on PLOS ONE. It may be accessed here.

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