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.
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DB: It's not always rational, but on one level, that's sort of the way you would like it. In a democracy, if the people you put in office don't deliver, you throw them away. Now, of course, there actually are limits to what any president can do in terms of the economy -- just as there are limits to what the Federal Reserve can do -- and they only gave Obama two years. Not to mention that the Republicans were in almost uniform opposition the whole time. And on top of both of those, we've had an extremely bad economic downturn.
TR: So it was a perfect storm for the Republicans?
DB: Absolutely. And on one level you could make the case that that was not a fair judgment, especially because the Democrats' opponents were doing absolutely nothing to try and improve the economy. But again, in a theoretical sense, that's the way democracies are supposed to work. If the party in power isn't delivering, it gets thrown out.
TR: Your paper says that this year, 9 percent of black voters voted for Republicans in House races. In 2008 only 4 percent of blacks voted for the Republican ticket. Is this a significant shift in black GOP voters?
DB: No. Remember that Bob Dole got 13 percent of the black vote against Bill Clinton, who everyone called the first black president. There's absolutely no movement toward the Republican Party. That's actually a normal breakdown of the black vote in the post-civil rights era. Even George W. Bush, when he first ran for president, got 8 percent of the black vote. And the second time he ran, he got 11 percent.
TR: The paper notes that Illinois and Ohio did spectacularly well in drumming up the black vote for these midterms. What can others learn from those states to summon the same kind of turnout?
DB: First of all, in Illinois, the heaviest concentration of black voters is in Cook County, where things are very well organized. That's the way things work in Cook County. Beyond that, my sense of why the turnout was so large was that African Americans wanted to keep Obama's Senate seat in Democratic hands. They strongly support Obama in that state.
In Ohio, I think, you had a couple of things: You not only had the desire to support President Obama but also had the Democrats running two black candidates. Strickland's running mate was a black woman [Yvette McGee Brown], and there was a black Democrat running for state treasurer [incumbent Kevin Boyce].
TR: Other states that you note had a large turnout were California and New York. Do you think you can credit their success mostly to the fact that they have large black populations?
DB: In terms of California, that was another place where you had a black candidate running for statewide office -- Kamala Harris. Also, a very high percentage of black voters in California are longtime political participants. If you look at the post-civil rights history of California, it's tied with Florida and Georgia for having the most black congresspeople. Willie Brown has also long been a major mover and shaker in California. You've got a substantial black involvement in California politics.
That being said, strangely enough, California had two Republican candidates, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, who got more of the black vote than any of the Republican candidates anywhere else.
TR: Why was that? Whitman, an out-of-touch billionaire, seems like the exact opposite of what African-American voters would be looking for.