TUPELO – Mississippi voters overall differ little from those elsewhere in the nation: Most of them are older, better educated and turn out in higher numbers for presidential elections, according to the Voting Hot Report issued this week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
But there’s one exception: Registered black voters were more likely to cast ballots in Mississippi than their white counterparts in every major election since 2004. That’s opposite from the national trend in which whites, as a whole, vote in higher percentages than blacks.
The state-by-state breakdown of voting trends tracks the four presidential and four congressional-only elections between 1996 and 2010.
Mississippi averaged a 52.6 percent voter turnout rate between 1996 and 2010, compared to the national rate of 53.7 during that period. In three of the past eight major elections – 2000, 2008 and 2010 – the state actually bested the national turnout percentage.
Longtime election enthusiast Henderson Jones, a Tupelo attorney and former local Democratic Party leader, suspected the hype of the 2000 presidential race between then-Vice President Al Gore and then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush pushed many state voters to the polls.
But Mississippi’s biggest voter turnout – 69.7 percent – came eight years later in the contest pitting black presidential candidate Barack Obama against Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Obama, who won nationally but lost decisively in Mississippi, earned overwhelming support from the state’s black voters, with most white voters picking McCain.
Henderson said Obama also likely influenced the 2010 congressional election turnout because voters wanted to oust Democratic congressional members who they felt were sympathetic to the president.
“They were going after Barack Obama,” he said.
Rates rise with age
The report also found voting rates typically increase with age and education, which proved true in Mississippi, as well. Fifty-nine percent of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree voted in 2010 compared to 35 percent of those without a high school diploma.
And just 28 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted two years ago compared to 61 percent of those 65 and older, the report found.
At least one young person, 26-year-old Jessyi Bryant of Mantachie, said she feels disenfranchised by the whole political system and therefore doesn’t vote.
“I don’t necessarily feel that my opinion or what I believe in is being represented by any of the candidates,” Bryant said. “And so I generally just avoid it completely.”
But Haley Wood, a 22-year-old University of Mississippi student, is among those who regularly casts ballots.
“I think it’s good for people my age to be involved,” she said. “I also have family members and friends that are serving in the military, and I feel if they’re going to go out there and fight for our country then the least I can do is walk into a voting precinct and be knowledgeable about it.”