By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
new america media
It’s no overstatement to say that Barack Obama would not be president if Latino and especially black voters had not turned the 2008 election into a holy crusade—not an election, in the traditional sense, but a holy crusade. That bears repeating because minority voters do not decide presidential elections. White voters do. But 2008 was the exception, solely because Latinos and blacks saw an Obama White House as the fulfillment of the American racial dream.
It took barely two years for that dream to come unraveled. The newest Gallup poll found that black voters are poised to desert the voting booth en masse in November. By a nearly 2 to 1 gap, whites are more likely to say that they are thinking about the November elections than blacks. This divide is far greater than the typical white-versus-minority voter participation gap found in recent midterm elections.
The wide racial gap can’t be chalked up to the standard midterm election malaise that affects a wide segment of voters, no matter their race. Polls consistently show that GOP-leaning voters, the overwhelming majority of them white, are more revved up by the November elections than blacks. They sniff political blood, namely the Democrats’ and by extension, President Obama’s. They see the election as a referendum on the president and his policies. The passion to nail Democrats is driven by a mix of disgust, fear, rumor, innuendo, disinformation, racial and religious bigotry, and plain ignorance.
That’s much less important, though, than a look at the number of voters who could defect and how their defection will politically savage Democratic incumbents and candidates. A GOP House takeover would effectively stymie, even cripple, Obama legislation and political initiatives in the run-up to the 2012 election.
In 2008, Latinos voted in bigger numbers and in higher percentages for Obama than they had for Democratic presidential loser John Kerry in 2004. Their vote helped seal the win for Obama in Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. Bush won Colorado and Florida in 2000 and all three states in 2004. If Obama had lost both states, he still might have beaten Republican rival John McCain. But the operative word is a very shaky “might.”
Pennsylvania, Ohio, and arguably North Carolina were the must-win states. Bush won two of the three states in 2000 and 2004 and cinched the White House. This time Obama won all three. If he had lost Pennsylvania or Ohio, the outcome might have been far different. Blacks make up 20 to 30 percent of the vote in those three states. They gave Obama the crucial edge there.
The more than 15 million black voters made up more than 20 percent of the overall Democratic vote in 2008. They gave Obama 96 percent of their vote. This was an all-time high for a Democratic presidential candidate.
A Gallup poll in late July gave a small but ominous hint that there was a slight cooling by black voters to the Obama presidency. It found Obama’s job approval rating at 85 percent among black Americans, down from a 94 percent four months earlier.
The nearly 10-percentage-point dropoff in Obama support came on the heels of his quickly admitted blunder in dumping Shirley Sherrod from her post at the Department of Agriculture. Then there was the private, and occasionally public, grousing by the Congressional Black Caucus that Obama and the Democrats aren’t saying and doing enough about the mountainous job and education crisis among young blacks. There was the ethics scandals involving veteran Congressional Black Caucus members Harlem Democrat Charles Rangel and California Democrat Maxine Waters. There was frustration at Obama and the Democrats for not hitting back hard at the GOP for its relentless attacks on his initiatives and its borderline racist slurs against the administration. There was the mounting national trauma over the economy’s slide.
The black vote has been the Democrats’ trump card in every election for the past half century, win or lose. Black-voter support has been fixed in the mid-80s percent for all Democratic presidential candidates during those decades. Even when Democratic presidential candidates lost, the relatively solid black vote has been enough to keep them competitive in many parts of the country, and equally important, it has given many Democratic state and congressional candidates their margin of victory in close races.
Democrats have been repeatedly rapped for plantationism—that is, for taking the black vote for granted and offering little tangible benefits in return for African Americans’ unyielding support. That’s not a fair knock. Many Democrats and Obama have fought hard against the GOP onslaught on health care and financial reform, on extending unemployment benefits, on passing a jobs bill. But if black voters feel the Democrats and Obama haven’t foughgt hard enough and stay home from the polls in the droves that polls suggest they might, it will spell big trouble for the party that won big in 2008.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson