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Black clout based on high turnout, not demographics

7th January 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

African Americans voted at a higher rate this year than other minority groups and for the first time in history may also have voted at a higher rate than Caucasians, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data, election day exit poll data and vote totals from selected cities and counties.

The study confirms the impact that surge in the Black electorate had in local elections like those in New Orleans on November 6, 2012.

Differing from Hispanics and Asians, who thanks to population growth, have enjoyed more representation at the polls, the African-American rising share of the vote in the past four presidential elections has been the result of rising turnout rates. This has been particularly true in New Orleans, where Blacks make up a smaller share of the population of the city post-Katrina, but whose turnout in November 2012 carried a series of African-American candidates into office over better-financed white contenders.

As the Pew Center’s Paul Taylor puts it, “These participation milestones are notable not just in light of the long history of Black disenfranchisement, but also in light of recently-enacted state voter identification laws that some critics contended would suppress turnout disproportionately among Blacks and other minority groups.”

“In fact, according to census data and the election day exit polls, Blacks made up 12 percent of the eligible electorate this year but accounted for an estimated 13 percent of all votes cast—a repeat of the 2008 presidential election, when Blacks ‘over-performed’ at the polls by the same ratio. In all previous presidential elections for which there are reliable data, Blacks had accounted for a smaller share of votes than eligible voters.”

“The candidacy in 2008 and 2012 of Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, is no doubt one of the main reasons for these new patterns. But there are other explanations as well, including the increased racial and ethnic diversity of the electorate, and a declining turnout rate among whites.”

This was especially seen in New Orleans, where despite losing white Independents by a considerably greater degree than four years ago, President Obama improved his 2008 showing of 782,989 votes, or 39.93 percent of the votes to win 808,496 votes in 2012. And, those votes came mainly from African Americans in Orleans Parish, where the President won by a margin almost 75,000 votes.

The increased clout of these voters played a direct role in the surprise primary victories in several white-Black Orleans contests, notably the Second District Court battles for Clerk and Constable. Darren Lombard rode higher African-American turnout to a 51 percent total, denying a much expected runoff position for Clerk of Court aspirant Adam Lambert. And, longtime Algiers Constable Ennis Grundmeyer lost his job narrowly to newcomer Edwin Shorty by just over 200 votes or 49-51 percent.

The Louisiana surge in the African-American vote defeated longtime School Board member Lourdes Moran 52-48 percent or nearly 800 votes. The victory of educational consultant Leslie Ellison, can be traced to larger turnout in the challenger’s African-American home precincts in Algiers.

And, Thomas Robichaux, the first openly gay member of the Orleans Parish School Board and its President, went down to defeat as the Ninth Ward-Centered Seventh District reasserted its African-American majority, electing Nolan Marshall.

It did not matter that both of these incumbents were active supporters of returning local control to the OPSB from the RSD, and both played a vocal role in the fight to keep SUNO from merging with UNO. They could not fight the tide for Black candidates in Orleans–provided mostly by the President’s coattails.

Only Jason Coleman in OPSB District 6 and Karran Harper Royal in District 3 came up short. Both OPSB seats possess a white Majority, though. Incumbent Democrat Woody Koppel won with 67 percent in the former, but Republican incumbent Brett Bonin went down to defeat in the latter with only 33 percent of the vote, losing to white Democrat Sarah Newell Usdin, showing that the Obama coattails helped direct two-thirds of the vote to Democrats in this GOP-leaning seat (when Royal’s 10 percent is factored as well).

While across the nation in 2012, a greater number of Hispanics and Asians cast ballots than ever before, their turnout rates were nowhere near those of African-Americans. As a share of eligible voters, while rising, lagged the general electorate by a considerable degree. Or as Taylor put it, “Their growing electoral muscle is mainly due to their rapid population growth.”

Meanwhile for Caucasians, not only has their share of the eligible electorate fallen, but he also observed that the white “turnout rate appears to have declined in 2012 for the second presidential election in row”.

“Did the turnout rate of Blacks exceed that of whites this year for the first time ever? For now, there’s circumstantial evidence but no conclusive proof. And there’ll be no clear verdict until next spring, when the U.S. Census Bureau publishes findings from its biannual post-election survey on voter turnout.”

“Even so, there’s a good bit that’s already known. Overall, about 129 million votes were cast for president in 2012, down slightly from 131 million in 2008. When one factors in a nine million increase in the age and citizen eligible electorate due to normal population growth between those two elections, the turnout rate among all eligible voters fell by more than three percentage points—to about 60 percent in 2012 from more than 63 percent in 2008.”

“The most authoritative measure of turnout by racial and ethnic groups comes from the census survey known as Voting and Registration Supplement, which is conducted in late November after every federal election among a nationally representative sample of about 100,000 adults.”

“While the 2012 finding won’t be made public for several months, a backward look at recent trends from this data set is instructive. In 2008, according to the post-election census survey, the gap between white and Black turnout was the smallest on record. Some 66.1 percent of all age and citizen eligible whites voted that year, compared with 65.2 percent of Blacks, 49.9 percent of Hispanics and 47 percent of Asian Americans. The survey found that the white turnout rate had declined by 1.1 percentage points between 2004 and 2008, while the rates for the other groups all rose—by 4.9 percentage points among Blacks, 2.7 among Hispanics and 2.4 among Asians.”

“The post-election survey also showed that in 2008, young Blacks (18- to 29-year-olds) voted at a higher rate than young whites (58 percent versus 52 percent) – a difference that was almost certainly related to the historic nature of the Obama candidacy, but that might foreshadow patterns in political engagement among the Millennial generation that could persist throughout adulthood.”

“The political importance of turnout rates by race was brought into sharp focus by [November]’s election, in which Obama won 80 percent of the non-white vote (including 93 percent of Blacks, 73 percent of Asian Americans and 71 percent of Hispanics) and just 39 percent of the white vote. That constellation of votes by race gave Obama a popular vote victory margin this year of 4.7 million and an Electoral College victory of 332-206.”

“For comparative purposes, consider the 1988 presidential race between GOP nominee George H.W. Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis. Bush received the identical share of the white vote that GOP nominee Mitt Romney won this year – 59 percent. But 24 years ago, that share was good enough to give Bush a popular vote margin of seven million and an Electoral College landslide of 426-111.”

“The stark difference in those two outcomes is a reflection of the country’s rapidly changing demographic makeup, driven mainly by the population growth among Hispanic and Asian American immigrants and their children. Blacks, by contrast, have not seen their share of the population grow during this period. But their electoral clout has increased because their participation rates have risen steadily in the three presidential elections from 2000 to 2008.”

“As for 2012, the best available data for now on turnout by racial and ethnic groups are from the National Election Pool, an election day exit survey of more than 26,000 voters conducted by a consortium of major media organizations.”

“These surveys are best known for enabling an analysis of which groups voted for which candidate. They can also be used to estimate the share of all voters by race and ethnicity (as well as by other demographic characteristics). However, these estimates should be treated with caution. In 2008, as the accompanying tables show, the estimates derived from the election day exit poll were not the same as the estimates derived from the post-election survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. There is no guarantee this will not be the case again in 2012.”

“Even with that caveat in mind, the exit poll is instructive. As the tables show, in 2012 Blacks and whites both appear to have cast a slightly higher shares of votes (72 percent and 13 percent, respectively) than their share of eligible voters (71 percent and 12 percent), while Hispanics and Asians cast a lower share of votes (10 percent and three percent) than their share of eligible voters (11 percent and four percent).”

“That still leaves unanswered whether the Black turnout rate in 2012 surpassed the white turnout rate. If so, it would be a notable denouement to the charged debate this year between state GOP leaders who pressed for tougher laws to deter voter fraud and Black and other minority group leaders who accused them of trying to suppress the minority vote. This fall, Black pastors, community leaders and elected officials across the country used these new identification laws as a spur to energize turnout.”

“In an effort to further explore whether Black turnout exceeded white turnout in 2012, Pew Research asked voter turnout expert Rhodes Cook to analyze the number of votes cast in 2008 and 2012 in a sampling of heavily Black and heavily white cities and counties across the country. Cook gathered the official counts from state election officials and relied on his extensive knowledge of the nation’s demographic and political characteristics, down to the county level, to select the sample.”

“His findings…show a mix of turnout increases and decreases, with no clear pattern. In short, Blacks may have achieved an historic turnout milestone at the polls last month—even in the face of what many Black leaders said was an effort to suppress their vote. But for now, there’s no conclusive proof.”

The future clout of the African-American vote will depend upon turnout when the nation no longer has a Black President for which to vote. Moreover, it is also unclear from Pew’s data whether the GOP’s embrace of Black candidates, such as newly appointed South Carolina Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott, will drive turnout, or have no impact.

While African Americans gave up to a quarter of their vote to Republican candidates as late as the 1950s, today, the GOP earns as little as six percent in any given election, and Black voters have shown little willingness to cast a ballot for fellow candidate who has crossed the political aisle.

This article was originally published in the January 7, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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