Washington-area blacks and whites voted at about the same rate in 2012, while nationally African-Americans voted at a higher rate than whites for the first time since the U.S. Census began tracking voting by race in 1996, according to data released Wednesday.

About 67.2 percent of eligible blacks and 67.5 percent of eligible whites voted in Virginia in the 2012 presidential election, compared to 68.3 percent and 69.4 percent, respectively, in 2008. About 67.5 percent of eligible black Marylanders and 65.6 percent of eligible white Marylanders voted in 2012, both down from the previous presidential election.

The black voting rate did rise in the District -- from 71.6 percent in 2008 to 76.8 percent in 2012. The white voting rate there dropped, from 80.4 percent in 2008 to 76.7 percent last year.

While some expected black turnout to drop sharply after the excitement of electing the country's first black president wore off, Brookings Institution senior fellow William Frey said just the opposite seemed to occur. Even in states where turnout did fall, like Maryland and Virginia, the drops were relatively insignificant.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

At the polls
Eligible voter turnout, 2012
White Black Hispanic Asian
U.S. total 98,041,000 17,813,000 11,188,000 3,904,000
D.C. 151,000 177,000 13,000 9,000
Maryland 1,648,000 788,000 103,000 66,000
Virginia 2,778,000 715,000 103,000 118,000

"I think it has a lot to do with loyalty to Obama -- there's still enthusiasm and excitement for our first African-American president," said Frey. "I think he in many ways could owe his re-election to their turnout."

Frey added that whites were not enthused by the candidates and not energized because of the poor economy. Mitt Romney got a higher percentage of white votes than any Republican since Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale in 1984, he said.

"Neither of the candidates were able to rally a lot of support for the mainstream white population," said Frey. "Clearly only the true believers came out to vote."

Nationally, nearly two-thirds of eligible blacks, 66.2 percent, voted in 2012, up from 64.7 percent in 2008 and 60 percent in 2004. The voting rate for eligible whites dropped to 64.1 percent, down from 66.1 percent in 2008 and 67.2 percent in 2004.

It wasn't just the white voting rate that went down -- the actual number of whites who showed up at the polls dropped to 98 million, down from about 100 million in 2008, according to Census estimates.

"That's the only time any race ... has seen a net decrease in number of votes cast," said Thom File, who authored the Census study. "We do know that the whole population is growing more diverse."