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African-American Voters Set to Play Key Role in November Election

By MacKenzie C. Babb | Staff Writer | 14 May 2012
Close-up of voters in booths (AP Images)

African-American voters cast ballots in Chicago during the 2008 presidential race.

Washington — African-American voters are set to play a key role in the November presidential election, continuing a trend of increased black voter turnout that helped to secure Barack Obama the presidency in 2008 over opponent John McCain.

“White voters preferred McCain to Obama 53 to 47 percent,” said Lorenzo Morris, an expert on African-American political participation, during a Washington Foreign Press Center briefing May 4. “High black voter turnout in 2008, the highest ever and the highest of any minority group, was at 65 percent [and] helped to make the difference” in tipping the scales for Obama’s victory.

Morris, a political science professor at Howard University in Washington, said that while turnout has not been historically high among black voters, it has recently begun to see steady growth. He added that he expects turnout among minority voters in November to drop only slightly from 2008.

The political scientist said Obama has not been as popular as many expected during his historic presidential term, in part because has not met the expectations of the most liberal Democrats.

“However, he has retained almost unilateral appeal within the black community,” Morris said, adding that this popularity will be key to mobilizing minority voters who could once again be the election’s deciding factor.

He said most African-American voters, along with other minority voters, maintain an ideological position that is “relatively far to the left,” leading the majority of these voters to cast ballots for Democrats.

Political analyst Larry Sabato said that in recent years, black voters have chosen Democratic candidates at between 90 percent and 95 percent.

During a May 9 interview, the University of Virginia professor said this trend was especially pronounced in the 2008 presidential election.

“Not surprisingly, given the historic candidacy of Barack Obama, African-American turnout was up, comprising about 13 percent of the national total, and Obama received over 95 percent of the vote to McCain’s 4 percent,” Sabato said. “In 2012, I expect the numbers to be roughly similar.”

But Sabato said African-American voters have not always leaned to the left. He said following the Civil War, African Americans with the right to vote tended to vote Republican — the party of President Abraham Lincoln.

“President Lyndon B. Johnson changed all that with his championing of President John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act in 1964; Johnson received 96 percent of the black vote that year,” Sabato said. “Now the black vote is critical to Democratic chances in any state with a substantial black population.”

Johnson, Morris noted, was also the only Democratic presidential candidate to win the majority of white votes since World War II; white voters have favored Republican candidates in all other postwar presidential races.

“Without minority voters, no Democrat is going to get into the White House,” Morris said.

The two analysts said that while minority voter turnout is difficult to predict at this early stage, it will likely once again be a key factor in deciding the election.