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Black Voters Will Help Re-Elect Obama

African Americans made up just 10 percent of the electorate in the midterms. But they'll come back strong in 2012, a voting expert predicts.

Barack Obama's campaign headquarters in Harlem, N.Y., on Nov. 4, 2008.
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On Nov. 2, when Republican candidates routed their opponents to take control of the House and narrow the gap in the Senate, just 10 percent of the electorate consisted of African Americans. In 2008 blacks made up 12 percent of all voters, a high that helped put the first African-American president over the top and into the Oval Office. Still, 12 percent is nothing to brag about, and 10 percent is even less so. (The 2008 census estimate put the African-American population at just under 13 percent.)

It's well-known that if African Americans are ever going to achieve true political parity with whites (who made up more than 76 percent of the electorate in 2008), they need to close the racial voting gap. For the first time in American history, blacks did that in 2008. Two years later, enthusiasm has clearly fallen off.

To discuss what went wrong in 2010, and to look forward to the 2012 election, The Root talked to voting expert David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies -- a nonprofit institution that conducts research on public-policy issues of special concern to African Americans and other people of color -- and author of "Blacks and the 2010 Midterms: A Preliminary Analysis."

Don't worry, says Bositis. Obama will win in 2012.

The Root: Black turnout was up slightly from the 2006 midterms, but it's still not the turnout people wanted. What went wrong?

David Bositis: Well you always have problems getting African Americans to the polls in midterm elections. People who vote on a very regular basis tend to be better educated, they tend to be older and they tend to be white -- that's just how it's always been.

And if you think about it, it theoretically makes sense. A lot of those older voters are retired; they have nothing to do during a day but vote. And not only that, there's a lot more effort made to accommodate older voters than younger voters. They have polling places in retirement communities, where it's convenient for older people to vote.

On the other hand, with younger voters, you have certain parties and organizations trying to keep them from voting. For instance, when Obama ran, there were certain college towns where there was a substantial effort made to try and keep younger voters from voting. It's always been the case.

TR: Your paper states that this election was a repudiation of the party in power, but you say that that's always what happens during periods of economic distress. The big conservative talking point right now is that this is, in fact, a repudiation of Obama specifically.

DB: That's totally bogus. As a matter of fact, Obama is individually much more popular than any of the [Republican politicians] who are saying that.