WASHINGTON — For all the attention generated by Barack Obama's candidacy, the share of eligible voters who cast ballots in November declined for the first time in a dozen years. The reason: Older whites with little interest in backing either Barack Obama or John McCain stayed home.
Census figures released Monday show that about 63.6 percent of the nation's eligible voters, or 131.1 million people, voted in November.
Although that represented an increase of 5 million voters -- virtually all of them minorities -- the turnout relative to the population of eligible voters was slightly below the 63.8 percent participation in 2004.
Ohio and Pennsylvania were among those showing declines in white voters, helping Obama carry those battleground states.
"While the significance of minority votes for Obama is clearly key, it cannot be overlooked that reduced white support for a Republican candidate allowed minorities to tip the balance in many slow-growing 'purple' states," said William H. Frey, a demographer for Brookings Institution, referring to key states that don't notably tilt Democrat or Republican.
According to census data, 66 percent of whites voted last November, down 1 percentage point from 2004. Blacks increased their turnout by 5 percentage points to 65 percent, nearly matching whites. Hispanics improved turnout by 3 percentage points, and Asians by 3.5 percentage points, each reaching a turnout of nearly 50 percent. In all, minorities made up nearly one in four voters in 2008, the most diverse electorate ever.
By age, voters 18 to 24 were the only group to show a statistically significant increase in turnout, with 49 percent casting ballots, compared with 47 percent in 2004.
Blacks had the highest turnout rate among this age group -- 55 percent, or an 8 percentage point jump from 2004. In contrast, turnout for whites 18 to 24 was basically flat at 49 percent. Asians and Hispanics in that age group increased to 41 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
Among whites 45 and older, turnout fell 1.5 percentage point to just under 72 percent.
Asked to specify reasons for not voting, 46 percent of all whites said they didn't like the candidates, weren't interested or had better things to do.