Black Voter Turnout Is Up. Will That Persist?

NAACP claims a key role in the rise, and a strategy for the post-Obama world.

(The Root) — Now that the government has confirmed that African Americans in 2012 voted at a higher rate than whites for the first time — and were the only group to boost its turnout — groups such as the NAACP are claiming credit.

But Barack Obama has left the campaign trail. Without his name on the ballot, will black voters keep it up?

“With two elections you can make a line, but it’s hard to extrapolate from that,” says Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie, author of The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark, and Post-Racial America. “I would not be surprised if black turnout goes down.”

There are plenty of examples of black voting behavior in jurisdictions that had their first black mayor, U.S. senator or governor. After those historic elections, Gillespie says the “novelty” wore off, and turnout for the next contest declined.

However, the novelty of Obama appeared to wear off in 2012 for most everyone except African Americans, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday. The agency’s survey of voters reinforces a Pew Research Center analysis published last December.

Blacks were the only racial or ethnic group to increase their rate of turnout, at 66 percent. Non-Latino whites voted at 64 percent, down two percentage points from 2008.

Entering 2012, many strategists predicted that black turnout wouldn’t approach the record high of 2008 due to voter frustrations about the weak economy, high unemployment and displeasure with Obama’s policies.

The NAACP on Friday attributed the counterintuitive results primarily to its more robust and sophisticated use of voter data for registration drives in 12 key states, where the organization says blacks achieved many of the turnout gains.

The NAACP also credited its leadership in the pitched battle against Republican-led state voting restrictions such as photo-identification laws. Numerous civil rights groups and the Obama team fomented a backlash among black voters with a “Don’t let them take away your vote!” message.