The Black-White Voter Participation Gap Is the Largest at the Highest Levels of Educational Attainment

It may come as a surprise to readers that blacks with very low levels of education actually are more likely to go to the polls than similarly educated whites. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008, 46.4 percent of blacks with only an elementary school education went to the polls. This was significantly higher than the 35.5 percent voter participation rate for similarly educated whites. Black high school dropouts were also significantly more likely to vote than white high school dropouts. In 2008 nearly half of all blacks who had dropped out of high school went to the polls. Only 38.2 percent of white high school dropouts voted in 2008. For whites and blacks with a high school diploma but no college education, the black voter participation rate was 5 percentage points higher than the rate for whites.

But the racial gap reverses for blacks and whites with four-year college and graduate degrees. At these higher levels of education, whites were more likely to vote than blacks, even in a historic election with a black man running for president of the United States. In 2008, 76.2 percent of blacks with a bachelor’s degree went to the polls compared to 79.1 percent of similarly educated whites. For blacks with a graduate degree, the voter participation rate actually declines slightly to 75.1 percent. For whites, a whopping 85.2 percent of graduate degree holders went to the polls in 2008. This is more than 10 percentage points higher than the voter participation rate for blacks with a graduate degree.