Black voters may hold key to White House

2012-10-29 10:00

New York - One thing that won't keep President Barack Obama awake at night ahead of 6 November is whether America's blacks still have his back. They adore him.

But will they actually show up to vote on election day? For the president, that's where electoral nightmares could begin.

Polls show virtually all blacks in the United States favour Obama over Republican Mitt Romney - partly because he became the first black president in 2008, partly because they always heavily support Democrats.

A Pew poll from October put the numbers at 92% to 3%, basically unchanged from the 95% to 4% recorded in Obama's historic 2008 victory.

However, in a tourniquet-tight race, the real number to watch will be turnout.

Although blacks make up only 12% of the population, their unusually high 65% turnout in 2008 helped push Obama over the top. A dip this time could help drag him down, just as it did during the 2010 midterm congressional elections when Republicans trounced Democrats.

Feeling the jitters

"There's no question that the black vote was a key part of what they call the coalition of the ascendant in 2008, or that the absence of black voters hurt Democrats in 2010," David Scott, head of news at Black Entertainment Television (BET), said. "Any way you slice it, the black electorate is a big part of a potential re-election this year."

Scott said Obama supporters are feeling the jitters.

He noted that 2008's high turnout was led by black women but that in the almost euphoric excitement of Obama's rise even the usually less active black male voters also made an extra effort.

"No one's taking for granted that those surge votes are coming back," Scott said. "While there's no question he's got overwhelming approval in the black community, that doesn't necessarily mean turnout. He'll get 96%. The question is: Ninety-six percent of what?"

The answer may make all the difference in battleground states with large black communities, especially Florida, Ohio and Virginia, said Philip Wallach at the Brookings Institution.

"Whether Obama gets good turnout of the sort he got in 2008 could really be the difference in the election in those states," Wallach said.

14% black unemployment

One reason black turnout may dip would be familiar to many in the United States.

"Some people are having a change of heart, because they were expecting a little more from him in a shorter period of time," New York mother of two Sharoya Curry said, pushing a pram down a busy Manhattan street. "Some people feel he let them down."

If millions of Americans are feeling the stress of the country's economic slump, blacks feel it even more keenly: Unemployment in their community is above 14%, compared to 8% overall.

"It's mainly to do with the economy, because a lot of people are still out of work," said Curry, aged 29, although she stressed she was personally ready to give Obama more time.

Obama has caused friction in sections of the black electorate with his support for same-sex marriage, and, conversely, what some see as his insufficiently tough line against Wall Street and big business.

Hermene Hartman, editor of Chicago news outlet N'DIGO, which focuses on African Americans, said Obama has simply been brought down to earth - just like any president after a first term, but especially so given the high expectations.

Voter registration rules

"In 2008, you had the romance, you had this historical significance, and you had hope and change. Those were real viable entities that made for a movement," she said. "Now you have an incumbent running against his very own record."

Both camps are fighting tooth and nail to get their base to the polls. In Romney's case that means injecting enthusiasm into the white electorate, although Democrats allege that Republicans are simultaneously trying to restrict the Democrat-leaning ethnic minority vote.

At the centre of those allegations is a push largely by Republican state legislatures to tighten rules on voter registration. Proponents say this combats polling booth fraud, while critics see poorly masked voter suppression.

Measures include restricting early voting, curtailing the activity of voter registration organisations, and closer scrutiny of government-issue ID.

Scott, at BET, said while tougher rules may seem innocuous, they have the cumulative effect of dissuading legitimate voters from the poorest, non-white communities.

A cold day in black America

"We can perceive in some of those initiatives a political agenda to suppress the vote [like] where they focus on voter ID and end up disenfranchising an elderly black woman who was born in a place and era when birth certificates were not so neatly kept," he said.

"In a tight race - and this one is as tight as they come - that could really represent the difference between one outcome and another. So that's why folks in our community are so focused and exercised about it."

Blacks in America spent centuries powerless. Now, they've not only helped elect the first African American president, but have the pressure of knowing they may be the ones to decide whether he stays on.

A one-term Obama presidency would be "devastating" to many blacks, Scott said. "November 7 will be a cold day in black America if the president is not re-elected."

  • bobo.jane.1 - 2012-10-29 10:40

    Shame, the amount of energy the world spend on racialism instead of what is right and what is wrong.

      kobus.hattingh.5 - 2012-10-29 10:46

      Absolutely and many of them now also realizes like the ones over here that at the end of the day it is all about promises which turns out to be emptry ones after all. And I have many Christian black American friends and they wont be voting for him again either due to his stance on abortion especially.

      JaredVN - 2012-10-29 10:52

      Can you imagine what the hysterical screaming from the left-wing loonies would be like if 92% of white voters said they'd vote for Romney simply because he is white? Just goes to show the immense double standards out there, and the grossly racist behaviour that only blacks can get away with.

      moses.mabhida.52 - 2012-10-29 10:57

      I voted ANC 2 times in my life... in the last election I voted DA... I vote for whom I believe would make SA abetter place... I find it outrages that Obama has over 90% of the black vote... If American whites didn’t vote for Obama he would have never won the last election - American blacks need to vote on merit not on colour... at the end of the day the American people will decide - but I fear over support by blacks for Obama because he is black will marginalize African Americans in the future. After successfully fighting racial inequality in the US, they now vote racially and that defeats the purpose of the struggle. A figure of 60 – 70 % of the black vote for Obama would be more in line with democratic tendencies.

      LanfearM - 2012-10-29 11:11

      @ kobus.hattingh - Obama's "stance on abortion"? That is the same stance as many presidents before him, since Roe vs Wade in the 70s. Obama "stance on abortion" is nothing new! Let us rather look at Romney's stance on, well, everything!

      omo.naija.750 - 2012-10-29 14:20

      JaredVN - Please leave your racist mentality out of US politics.Obama is surrounded and supported by both white and black so your argument holds no water.His deputy is white so what are you on about??? Black Americans voted for Obama in 2008 because he appeared to them as a new breed and because he was the FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN president. His opponent at the time was extremely weak in debates and did not present any meaningful plan for the future of America. Do you know the level of racial insults Obama and his wife have had to endure at the hands of people with your kind of mentality?Do i need to point in the direction of several racist articles and videos depicting Obama and his wife in the most racially insulting way ever?? 2012 is a different year and many African Americans are voting for Obama mainly because of his health care reform not because because of his skin color.Please realize that most Americans don't reason like South Africans who make everything about race.In the USA it is all about the American dream and they will choose who they feel can make it happen for them regardless of color. Romney has flip flipped on every issue since he started campaigning,he does not seem to have a backbone and that will only make for a reckless president.That is why is support is dwindling. If i ask you now to give me 10 valid reasons why you think Obama is a bad president ,i bet you won't be able to.If anyone is gross it is you who can not seem to keep shut about race.

  • fishycraig - 2012-10-29 11:48

    Err, wasn't it the Republicans who stopped slavery? Wasn't it the Dems who brought in the Jim Crow laws? Funny how history is forgotten or rewritten.

      Eduannn - 2012-10-29 12:22

      Yes I agree - truly odd is it not? However I also thought it was the other way around until I read up in Wikipedia that the GOP (Grand old Party) - The Republican Party was founded in the NORTHERN STATES and due to ANTI-SLAVERY activism. Odd how history has been changed in such a short period of time. As with all liberal leftists the Democrats have now successfully stolen the supposed 'moral highground' but in actual fact it was the supposedly 'conservative' Republicans that originally fought for freedom for the black slaves.

  • ettore.greco2 - 2012-10-30 02:12

    Once again, the next US presidential election will be fixed. Mitt Romney will be elected even though Barack Obama would have received more votes in the presidential election. The political assassination will be perpetrated by Bush hiding behind Crossroads GPS, the most influential group of Neocons. The Neocons will have Mitt Romney elected to first use him and then let him fall easy prey. All blames and responsibilities will fall on the new Mormon president for the events already planned. The new World War of Religion is already a done deal behind the backs of all people to bring chaos and poverty and to favor in the end the rise of one New World Order. There is only one Solution.

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