How Much Does the Black Vote Matter?

A new report shows it could be the key to an Obama win in November.

Posted: 07/17/2012 09:39 AM EDT
Black voting, Barack Obama

When political observers talk about pivotal swing-state voters who can make or break an election, the images that come to mind are often the faces of white independents and blue-collar workers. But according to a report titled "The Hidden Swing Voters: Impact of African-Americans in 2012," which was released by the National Urban League on Tuesday, African-American voter turnout is just as important and could determine whether President Obama wins or loses in November.

Black voters turned out in record numbers in 2008 in large part because of their overwhelming desire to help elect the nation's first African-American president. According to the report,  if that turnout dips in 2012 to 60 percent compared to about 65 percent four years ago, Obama could lose in North Carolina and have difficulty carrying Ohio and Virginia. In Indiana and Florida, the African-American vote represented nearly 80 percent of  the margin of victory.

"We wanted to point out that turnout makes a difference, National Urban League president Mark Morial told reporters in a conference call. "And that African-American turnout, particularly in a number of states, could make the ultimate difference."

Morial added that it is critical to build on the gains of 2008, when African-American voter turnout was almost equal to that of white voters and he hopes that the report will be used as a tool to reinforce to Blacks how powerful their vote really is.

"The goal of any fully functioning democracy should be to expand the electoral franchise," said Chanelle P. Hardy, who heads the Urban League's Policy Institute. "This report should put to rest the notion that voting has little impact these days. Indeed, it underscores in real and tangible ways that every vote counts."

In addition to concerns about diminished enthusiasm, despite polls that regularly confirm that African-Americans continue to be solidly behind Obama, civil rights and other groups worry that tougher new voter registration and photo ID requirements could prevent minority voters from casting ballots in November.

"There is an active, broad coalition that includes everyone from traditional civil rights organizations like the National Urban League and the NAACP to organizations like the ACLU, the Legal Defense Fund, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and many, many others who are joined together at the hip in doing a number of things," to combat the effect of those new voting laws, Morial said. "You're going to see a concerted effort, number one, to challenge these restrictions in every way possible, and secondly, to make sure that whatever the state of play or the rules are come the fall that we're going to try to educate people."

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(Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)


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