There was a line in Dan Balz’s terrific analysis of the Republican Party’s political dilemma that kind of bugged me. Not because he was wrong, but because he could be easily disproven. All that’s needed is for black folks to vote.
Balz argued that the GOP would retain control of the House and could take the Senate thanks to redistricting and the number of seats Democrats have to defend in the upper chamber. But Balz also said this, “Republicans also will enjoy a more favorable electorate in 2014 than they did in 2012, if past patterns prevail. Midterm electorates are older and whiter in composition than the electorates in presidential years.” The key phrase is “if past patterns prevail.”
During the 2012 presidential election, Republicans certainly thought past patterns would prevail. Specifically, they thought the coalition of minorities and women, many of whom were first-time voters, wouldn’t return to the polls for two reasons. First, there was a strong belief that because those first-time voters didn’t have a tradition of voting, many of them would stay home on Election Day. Second, there was an even stronger belief that President Obama’s coalition was so disillusioned by what their guy was unable to achieve that they would be too demoralized to vote. Wrong and wrong, again.
A Census Bureau report released in May showed that the rate of African American voters in the 2012 presidential election surpassed that of whites for the first time in history. “About two in three eligible blacks (66.2 percent) voted in the 2012 presidential election, higher than the 64.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites who did so,” the study showed. But the Census revealed another noteworthy nugget about black voters.
Blacks were the only race or ethnic group to show a significant increase between the 2008 and 2012 elections in the likelihood of voting (from 64.7 percent to 66.2 percent). The 2012 increase in voting among blacks continues what has been a long-term trend: since 1996, turnout rates have risen 13 percentage points to the highest levels of any recent presidential election.
But wait, there’s more. According to Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University, black voter turnout in 2012 “was most likely on par with 2008.” In a Post story about an Associated Press study of the 2012 election results released in April, McDonald “crunched the numbers differently.”
The AP does give exact numbers for 2008 turnout – 66.1 percent for whites and 65.2 percent for blacks….If you exclude people who did not respond to the census, the black turnout rate also surpassed white turnout four years ago, 76.6 percent to 73.6 percent.
Of course, President Obama being on the ballot is a big reason for sky-high black voter participation in both elections. And it is also why some Democrats are worried that the party won’t be able to maintain those numbers in subsequent elections. But African Americans have the power literally in their hands to keep the momentum going. They just need motivation. And there’s plenty of it.
Republican governors across the country roused a sleeping giant when they attempted to limit access to voting. Rather than be disenfranchised, blacks waited — and waited — for their opportunity to vote in the last election. The gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court should only bolster their resolve to resist further attempts to keep them and others from the polls. Anger over the acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin could also lead African Americans to the polls, if only to exercise what power they do have. If they use it to vote not only in congressional races, but also in local elections they might send shock waves through a system that won’t do anything about the insane “Stand Your Ground” laws. And then there’s the motivation to send the president’s political enemies packing. Time and again, they have opposed him even when he adopted their ideas. Corporate tax reform being the latest example.
A House of Representatives returned to Democratic control and the Democratic majority hanging on in the Senate would allow Obama to get his agenda through and get something done for the American people. All that’s required is for the 2014 electorate to be less white than it has ever been. That means Democrats must come out and vote in a midterm election like they’ve never done before. Most importantly, African Americans must vote as they have in the last two presidential elections to render “past patterns” obsolete.
Follow Jonathan Capehart on Twitter.