Can Obama energize the black vote? Doubts remain

Can Obama energize the black vote? Doubts remain

New Orleans : LA : USA | Jul 15, 2012 at 9:07 AM PDT
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In 2008, African Americans turned out in record numbers to vote in the U.S. presidential election and exit polls showed that Barack Obama captured 95 percent of those votes.

With now President Obama facing a sluggish economy and unemployment at more than eight percent, some experts believe that enthusiasm of electing the nation’s first black president will not be recaptured in November, dealing a death blow to Obama’s re-election chances.

Journalists, pollster and educators recently came together at the National Association of Black Journalists convention last month in New Orleans to talk about the African American vote. The talk did not seem optimistic about Obama garnering the same momentum among African American voters.

Sonya Ross, longtime political reporter for the Associated Press and its current race and ethnicity editor, said the Obama campaign needs a special strategy to engage black voters, something she’s not seeing on the campaign trail.

“This president needs a different approach than your standard white male Democrat and what we’re seeing looks very much like the standard Democratic approach,” Ross said. “There’s this feeling of ‘let’s engage and energize the black male vote, like in August.’ It will require invigoration well ahead of that. That will not work when you are dealing with an atypical candidate.”

Cornell Belcher, president of Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies, who has contributed as a pollster for the Democratic Party, countered, saying that the Obama campaign is spending money in the African American and Latino communities like no other candidate before.

“When you look at how much money the campaign has spent on paid communication to African Americans at this point, it’s unheard of,” Belcher said of the Obama campaign’s media buys in black and Hispanic media, particularly in battleground states. “If you want to know how much a constituency means to a candidate, follow the money. There is significant spending right now targeting African Americans and Latinos. Now, there’s an open argument that can be made if it will be enough, but what’s being done right now is still unprecedented.”

Obama’s focus on groups like African Americans and Latinos is justified. The president carried 44 percent of the white vote in 2008. Obama won traditional “red” states like Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia last election because of the strong turnout of minorities. Experts believe the enthusiasm gap coupled with more restrictive voting laws in each of those states and others will drive down minority participation enough to make Obama vulnerable.

“I expect Obama to do better than the average white Democratic candidate in regards to minorities,” said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, who has written a book about rise of a promising Democratic star, Newark, N.J. mayor Cory Booker. “I expect he can reach 92 percent to 94 percent. I think black Republican sat out the last election because it was historic, but I think now they are a little more embolden to vote Republican again against Obama. Also, people had unrealistic expectations of what he would be able to do in her first term. That’ll affected turnout. The reality may turn people away.”

Even with those obstacles, Belcher said the changing electorate will still be challenging for Republicans. Case in point, Republican challenger Mitt Romney faced an Obama-friendly crowd when he spoke July 11 at the NAACP’s national convention in Houston. Political experts said events like NAACP convention are no longer optional for presidential candidates and their surrogates.

“John McCain got 56 percent of the white vote in 2008, which wasn’t that far off of what Reagan got in his landslide 1984,” said Belcher, a frequent contributor to CNN. “If McCain had gotten that in the 1980s, it would have been a landslide coalition. That’s just how much the political landscape has changed since then. Democrats are not that successful without bringing in the new diversity of the electorate.

“In 2008, 11 percent of the electorate was brand new voters,” Belcher said. “It was blacker, browner, and under 30. If that electorate looks that way again in 2012 and moving forward, the Republicans will have a hard time nationally.”

Gillespie said regardless of what is being spent now, the bottom line when it comes to the African American vote will be turnout. She said in that respect, there’s not a lot of evidence of Obama duplicating 2008.

“The big thing will be getting organization in place to get those voters out,” Gillespie said. “A key will be is where those field dollars will go out to this fall. Door-to-door canvassing gets you your greatest bang for buck. If they are not asked to go, they may not get out to vote.”

Ross said while electing the first African American president was uncharted territory for the electorate, re-electing him is also unchartered territory, so many predictions about how that will affect black turnout will remain up in the air until votes are counted in November.

If you like to write about U.S. politics and Campaign 2012, enter "The American Pundit" competition. Allvoices is awarding four $250 prizes each month between now and November. These monthly winners earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize, to be awarded after the November election.

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U.S. President Barack Obama gives a video message to the NAACP
U.S. President Barack Obama gives a video message to the NAACP
ClydeHughes is based in West Lafayette, Indiana, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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