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Can Obama Sustain Enthusiasm With African Americans?

7:20 AM, Oct 22, 2012 • By JAY COST
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This might also explain Romney’s sustained polling edge in both Florida and North Carolina. Both states swung to Obama in 2008 because of substantial increases in black support. Now, Obama trails in both – suggesting that increased opposition among other blocs, namely non-Hispanic whites (and, in Florida, Cubans), is currently more substantial than his support among African Americans.

This should serve as a cautionary tale when looking at nationwide horse race polls. Those that mimic a nationwide Democratic advantage similar to 2008 perhaps should be taken with a grain of salt. That edge occurred partially because of turnout spikes in non-competitive states with large black populations – like Alabama, the District of Columbia, and South Carolina. What’s more, there was a substantial demographic shift in states like California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York: none of these states saw overall big increases in turnout, but did see large jumps in the black vote.

Again, very little of this was induced by the Obama-Biden campaign. To be clear: enormous credit is due to them for a careful study of the demographics in Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia (and, for that matter, Nebraska’s second congressional district, which is 10 percent black and went narrowly for Obama). Obama’s team intuited that it could use this expected surge in the black vote to pick up electoral votes that are not usually contested, but the campaign itself did not create this enthusiasm.

Final point: Obama has pressure to do as well with the black vote this year because he is on track to do substantially worse with white voters than four years ago.

In 2008, he won 43 percent of the white vote; this year, I am betting on 40 percent or less. That would make for at least a 4.5-point nationwide shift toward Romney relative to 2008; and remember that Obama’s total margin of victory was 7.3 points. But there’s potentially more to the story: white turnout was flat in 2008 relative to 2004 – 62 percent of the voting age population compared to 61 percent, i.e. within the exit poll’s margin of error. On the other hand, white turnout increased between 2000 and 2004 by 5 points.

So, if whites turn out at a greater rate than they did in 2008 and vote for Obama at a lower rate, that is going to exert greater pressure on the president to match his extraordinary haul among African Americans. 

Nobody knows for sure exactly what will happen on Election Day. But this is an underlying trend to keep a close eye on. At the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that the black vote will break at least 90:10 in favor of the president. So, for every African American who does not turn out this cycle, the president is about 90 percent likely to lose a vote. This means that seemingly small shifts with this relatively small demographic group can have huge implications on who wins on November 6.

Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.

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