Hispanics made up 7 percent of voters in the 2010 congressional election, the highest percentage for a nonpresidential election since the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting this information in 1974. Hispanics comprised 6 percent of voters in 2006.
Blacks also increased their share of the electorate, going from 11 percent in 2006 to 12 percent in 2010 (a figure not statistically different from the record high in 1998).
These numbers come from Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2010, a set of tables that compares voting and registration patterns by demographic, social and geographic characteristics. They also include state figures on voting and registration.
“These statistics show that the nation's electorate is becoming increasingly diverse,” said Tiffany Julian, of the Census Bureau's Education and Social Stratification Branch. “The electorate looks much different than when we first started collecting these data 37 years ago.”
The Asian share of the electorate in 2010 was not statistically different than the share in 2006 (2.5 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively). Non-Hispanic white voters decreased from 80.4 percent of the electorate in 2006 to 77.5 percent in 2010, a decline of 2.9 percentage points.
Other highlights from the tables:
- Maine and Washington experienced voter turnout greater than 55 percent. Fewer than 40 percent of citizens in Texas reported voting.
- The most common reason people did not vote was they were too busy (27 percent). Another 16 percent felt that their vote would not make a difference.
- Homeowners were more likely to register and vote than renters; 74 percent of homeowners were registered to vote and 68 percent actually voted; 61 percent of renters were registered and 52 percent voted.
- People with at least some college education made up 68 percent of voters. Individuals without a high school diploma comprised 6 percent of voters.
- Veterans were more likely to vote (57 percent) than nonveterans (44 percent).
- People living in families who earned $100,000 or more were more than twice as likely to vote as those who lived with families earning less than $20,000 (61 percent and 30 percent, respectively).
Two states with lower turnout are Tennessee and West Virginia.
Census bureau surveys dating back to 1990 show Tennessee has consistently ranked lower than most states in congressional election turnout. It has numbered among the bottom 15 in all but the 2002 election.
"Historically the southern states have had a lower turnout," said Mark Byrnes, a political science professor at Middle Tennessee State University. "Part of it's tied to education. We know that education is correlated to the likelihood to vote, and we have a low percentage of college-educated people."
Nationally, college-educated people made up 68 percent of voters in 2010, according to census figures. People without a high-school diploma accounted for 6 percent of voters.
Nationwide and in Tennessee, turnout was higher among older Americans than among young people.
About 16 percent of citizens between 18 and 24 voted in Tennessee, compared to 21 percent nationwide. Sixty-three percent of Tennesseans between 65 and 74 showed up at the polls -- consistent with national data.
Byrnes said high turnout among older voters isn't surprising.
"Those are by and large retired people who have a great interest in making sure that the government programs that serve them stay healthy," he said. "They have plenty of time to vote and to keep up with the issues, and if you add time to interest, you're likely to get voting."
Marybeth Beller, associated professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Marshall University, said the low turnout rates for young people are not surprising.
“Since we passed the amendment to the Constitution lowering the voting age to 18, we’ve seen a drop off in that cohort,” Beller said.
“Unless we have campaign issues that connect to people in that age group, they don’t tune in.”
In the past couple of years, much of the political debate nationwide has been on health care and health insurance, but that issue is not a priority for young people, Beller said. A discussion of college tuition or of jobs could bring more younger voters to the polls, she said.
Beller said she does not expect next week’s election for governor to bring out many younger voters.
“There’s very little about the Tomblin-Maloney campaign that has to do with issues young people deal with,” she said.