Black voter turnout is key for the upcoming presidential election, but candidates would be mistaken if they think it is in the bag. They will have to work to encourage many in the disenchanted black electorate to head out to the polls come November 2012.
It is true that for the 2008 presidential election, black voter turnout was 65.2 percent — an all-time high — with about 15.9 million black Americans casting ballots, including an estimated 5 million first-time voters.
That year, blacks alone increased votes for the Democratic candidate by 3.2 million from the previous presidential election, according to the PEW Research Center. Democratic presidential candidates in 2000, 2004, and 2008 won 90 percent, 89 percent, and 95 percent of the black vote, respectively.
Like other groups, blacks turn out to vote in greater numbers during presidential races than during midterms. State and congressional Democratic candidates get the benefit from that bump and extra churn.
Many assume that in 2008 it was the race of presidential candidate Barack Obama that was responsible for the record black turnout. Not so fast, says one analysis.
Using data from the 1984 and 1996 National Black Election Studies and the 2008 American National Election Study, Public Opinion Quarterly published a report that found personal contact from a campaign worker or official contributed more to higher than normal black turnout in 2008, not the race of the presidential candidate alone.
No doubt, black voter turnout will be essential in 2012. At the Netroots Nation conference of progressives taking place in Minnesota this year, a panel will explore the topic.
That discussion — Do it Again: Getting 2008 First-time Voters Out in 2012 — will be broadcast live over the Internet and rebroadcast in various online and television media following the event.
The panel will tackle a range of methods and mechanisms for galvanizing and mobilizing blacks to go to the polls. The black youth vote is a challenge because young people are generally not as politically engaged as older Americans. Many do not believe voting helps their situation, and many do not recognize that they empower their elected officials when they exercise their voting rights.
Candidates have to be creative to encourage turnout among that 18 to 25 demographic. Below are 10 suggestions, that if adopted by campaigns, could increase turnout among black voters.
Juice up Hollywood power — The Obama White House has successfully engaged influential members of the hip hop community and entertainment world. Actor, rapper and activists like Common and hip hop legend Russell Simmons have participated in calls with the black press and stumped for candidates in urban areas during the midterms. The effort can be worthwhile. Simmons, for example, has 805,000 Twitter followers who routinely retweet his messages.
Engage goodwill ambassadors — Why limit focus to Hollywood? Outreach to social media superstars who are not celebrities, but who nonetheless have significant followings, could be a worthwhile. They can act as goodwill ambassadors delivering empowerment messages and information about candidates. Young people are taking advantage of the voice and power they have developed in the social media space. Often times, they are using it to share stories, jokes, images, but who is to say they will not be flattered by being contacted by a campaign to help them encourage their followers to get politically engaged?
Use Social Media — Young blacks on Twitter and other social media tools respond to trending topics, whatever most people are talking about that hour or day. They will jump on it to learn more and contribute. Candidates and campaigns may want to incorporate a “trending topic” challenge among some of the more influential people and encourage them to get a certain buzz word or phrase related to the get-out-the-vote effort to trend, either locally or nationally.
Plan social events — Everyone loves a party. Several brands have instituted campaigns where they send party-starter kits to encourage people to host events featuring their product. What’s stopping a campaign from doing something similar?
Contact college groups, fraternities and sororities — Many college groups, including fraternities and sororities, abide by principles of social outreach and community service. They aren’t all about keg parties. Working with these influential groups to host events and social gatherings that have dual purposes of education and mobilizing an electorate is a sure-fire way to expand reach.
Engage neighborhood and communities — Block parties in the warmer months are a great way to get neighborhoods to come together. Campaigns can work with leaders at the most local level to plan these gatherings around the election.
Incorporate the arts — It is no secret that many urban youth turn to music, rap and performance arts to challenge energy. Host an online Idol competition challenging youth to come up with a song or rap that speaks to the right to vote and the importance of exercising that civic duty, or challenge them to come up with a candidate’s campaign song. Recording artist and hip hopper Lupe Fiasco came under fire recently for saying Obama was the biggest terrorist. Many lyrics of his songs speak to social and world issues that young people should care about, and it is key to know that not all rap is bad. Conscious rap reaches and speaks to young youth in a way that candidates should acknowledge and embrace. Top entrants would encourage their friends, family to vote and the finalists could get the opportunity to record the winning songs have a high profile artist or two for a video to be published and promoted on YouTube or through viral messaging. It would be a way to get many people to pay attention to the voter empowerment message attached to the contest.
Practice sports medicine — A love for sports or a sport theme unifies many. Campaigns can work with community centers and neighborhood groups to organize community sport events like a two-on-two basketball or a coed soccer tournament, for example. It would be a way to turn out families to get healthy fun and important messages about the government, policies and the importance of voting.
Each one Teach One — Spread campaign dollars by sponsoring health clinics, college fairs, job fairs and having volunteers be on hand to chat with attendees about voting and their candidate. Engage civic, religious and other community groups, and encourage them to get out the voter-empowerment messages at their events.