It’s as dependable as the rise and ebb of the tides.
If a national election is near, then it’s time to cast doubt on the commitment of blacks and Latinos to turn out to vote. Despite their steady level of participation over the last two decades, and clear ratcheting-up of voting in the last six years, forecasts of a fall-off — or at least concern that it will occur — remain a staple of conventional political coverage.
It was so in the run-up to the mid-term elections of 2006; and 2008; and 2010 even as the percentage of blacks and Latinos voting approached or surpassed record levels and they accounted for a greater than ever proportion of the overall national vote.
Now, it’s begun again. Last week the Washington Post published an article declaring that the number of black and Latino registered voters has declined sharply since 2008. It attributed the fall-off — for blacks, a decline of 7 percent to some 16 million voters; for Latinos, a decline of 5 percent, to about 11 million voters — to three factors.
One was the usual shrinkage in the voting rolls during non-presidential years. The number of white registered voters slipped by 5 percent as well, to 104 million.
More worrisome, however, was the view of some observers that loss of jobs and loss of homes to foreclosure during the last two years had forced many blacks and Latinos to move — thereby ceding their voter registration and making it uncertain that they’ll register elsewhere.
In addition, the enactment or strengthening of voter identification laws in more than a dozen states since the 2010 mid-terms has raised the possibility that some significant proportion of traditionally Democratic Party voters may be blocked from the polls.
Those are valid concerns, to be sure. But the Obama campaign and other independent observers pointed out a serious flaw in the Post article’s discussion. It was comparing voter registrations from an historic, politically-super-charged presidential election year with those of a mid-term election year now two years in the past.
Clo Ewing, an Obama campaign official, wrote that in fact “since that time, more than 1.4 million African Americans and more than 1.2 million Latinos have registered to vote…. There are more Americans of both backgrounds registered to vote today than there were when President Obama was elected.”
Michael P. McDonald, a professor at George Mason University and an expert on voting, said that a flaw in the way the Census Bureau currently tabulates voting and registration rates has contributed to the confusion. He said there’s no doubt that the registrations of both Latinos and African-Americans provide the Obama campaign with a comfortable advantage in registering more of each this year.
He added “That these minority populations are also growing in size relative to the non-Hispanic White population should give more worry to the Romney campaign than to the Obama campaign.”
Nonetheless, there is significant cause for concern.
In every political election every vote always counts; and that will be especially true in the Obama-Romney contest. For, it’s already apparent that the incessant, overtly-racist and racially-coded attacks launched from low and high places in the conservative sector against the President and the First Family since before he took office will continue right through November’s Election Day.
It’s also clear, as a May 3 New York Times article underscored, that the opposition to Obama among some segment of white voters will continue to be grounded in racist attitudes.
As Jamelle Bouie pointed out in a perceptive article in The American Prospect, these whites’ opposition to Obama is, in turn, driven by their dismay at black Americans exercising what Bouie calls “political agency.”
This, in my view, means more than just political power. It means political effectiveness – an acute understanding of the political game.
Certainly, that description fits both Obama’s strategy for gaining the Presidency and the black electorate’s, first, patient, skillful assessment of Obama during the early part of the Democratic presidential primary four years ago, and, then, its massive turnout for him at the polls in November 2008.
It soon became apparent that that display of political competence on the part of Obama and the black electorate infuriated a diminishing, but still substantial minority of white Americans. One can hear the voice of the Steubenville, Ohio bank employee the Times reporter interviewed who practically spits out the reason she thinks Obama won the election. “He was like, ‘Here I am, I’m black and I’m proud,’” she said. “To me, he didn’t have a platform. Black people voted him in, that’s why he won. It was black ignorance.”
As I noted recently in characterizing a display of anti-black bigotry in a very different context, these attitudes spring from the sense that a “whites-only” rule has been violated — that blacks, or a black person is trespassing on a place or position that should still be reserved for whites.
This group’s racial intransigence is important because in a paper published this month, Harvard economics scholar Seth Stephens-Davidowitz estimates that anti-black bigotry “cost” Obama 3 to 5 percentage points in the national popular vote in 2008. That is, but for those voting against him out of racist motives, Obama would have gained between 56.7 and 58.7 percent of the popular vote, not the 53.7 percent he actually did get.
Stephens-Davidowitz calculates that the massive, 95-percent black vote Obama got added only about 1 percentage point to his popular vote totals.
In other words, “any votes Obama gained due to his race in the general election were not nearly enough to outweigh the cost of racial animus, meaning race was a large net negative for Obama. Evidence from other research, as well as some analysis in this paper, suggest that few white voters swung in Obama’s favor in the genera election due to his race. …. [Thus, the paper offers] new evidence that racial attitudes remain a potent factor against African Americans, nationwide, in modern American politics”
That means it’s critically important that every effort must be made to register every eligible black and Latino voter and ensure that they vote — because, come November, President Obama will likely need every vote he cab get.