What Will Happen with Black Turnout in 2012?

The thing to remember about Barack Obama’s support among black voters in the 2008 election is that it simply wasn’t as remarkable as it was presented. Obama won 95 percent of African American voters, which is not substantially higher than John Kerry’s 88 percent performance in 2004 and Al Gore’s 90 percent performance in 2000. In other words, African Americans are stalwarts of the Democratic Party, and routinely deliver huge margins to Democratic candidates in national, state, and local elections. Insofar that there’s a difference between 2000, 2004, and 2008, it’s turnout -- Obama managed to boost black turnout to 13 percent of the electorate, a two-point increase over 2004, and a three-point increase over 2000.

You should keep all of this in mind as you read this Washington Post story on African American support for Obama. The question presented by the Post is whether the president can “hold on to African American voters in 2012” given the extent to which the president has begun to receive “vocal criticism” from “some members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other African American leaders.”

Even with the criticism that comes from segments of the black community, Obama shouldn’t worry too much about the overall level of support he receives from African Americans. If past voting behavior holds true -- and there’s no reason to think that it won’t – Obama can expect 90 percent to 95 percent support from African American voters. The real question isn’t whether he’ll keep black voters, it’s whether he’ll be able to repeat or build on the turnout gains of 2008.

It’s too early to tell at this point, but it suffices to say that if he can’t, then states like Virginia fall out of reach, and the Obama re-election campaign moves from difficult to near impossible.

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