In 2012, Black Turnout at an All-Time High


It’s official—in 2012, African Americans voted at a higher rate than any other racial group in the United States, including whites. And it’s that turnout which delivered key states like Virginia, Ohio, and Florida, thus giving President Obama another four years in the Oval Office. Overall, while blacks made up 12 percent of eligible voters in last year’s election, they represented 13 percent of total votes, a consequence of African American enthusiasm and lower turnout among white voters. Here’s the Associated Press with more:

The 2012 data suggest Romney was a particularly weak GOP candidate, unable to motivate white voters let alone attract significant black or Latino support. Obama’s personal appeal and the slowly improving economy helped overcome doubts and spur record levels of minority voters in a way that may not be easily replicated for Democrats soon.

Romney would have erased Obama’s nearly 5 million-vote victory margin and narrowly won the popular vote if voters had turned out as they did in 2004, according to Frey’s analysis. Then, white turnout was slightly higher and black voting lower.

There are a few other points worth mentioning. For all the talk of the Latino voting strength, the fact is that the number of Latino voters is far lower than their share of the population. They’re 17 percent of the population but just 11 percent of all eligible voters, due to lower rates of citizenship and a younger median age (a significant proportion of Latinos are under the age of 18). In other words, Latino political strength will be slow-growing—that Democrats command large margins among Latino voters won’t guarantee them national elections.

One interesting question is whether blacks continue to vote at such high levels. It’s easy to be skeptical—since Barack Obama won’t head the Democratic ticket in 2016—but it’s also important to remember the overall trend for African American turnout. Since 1996, black voters have been turning out to vote in higher and higher numbers. 2016 might not match 2012, but my hunch is that it will be much closer to that benchmark than we think.

Which means that, if there’s a critical task for the GOP for the next two years, it’s recapturing its former standing among black voters. At the moment, black support for Republicans is in the low single digits. Even in the last 30 years, this is unusual—most Republican presidential nominees since Ronald Reagan have been able to count on 10 to 13 percent black support.

Remember, Obama’s entire margin of victory in states like Ohio and Virginia can be attributed his overwhelming advantage among black voters, who went to the polls at an incredibly high rate. If black voters lived in a swing state, they went to the polls. And if they went to the polls, they voted for the president.

Getting back just a few of those voters would be a huge boon for the Republican Party in states like Virginia and Ohio—outreach to African Americans ought to be a priority. Yes, conservative activists are busy elevating people like Ben Carson. But in the real world, where genuine outreach requires more than just a different shade of messenger, the Republican Party seems to have just given up on ever reaching a greater share of black voters. In other words, Republicans have intentionally made it a little more difficult for them to win elections.