Voter apathy is not the sole province of black voters, but its effects are far more damaging. A 2009 Pew Survey showed that black turnout in 2004 was 60% and rose to 65% in 2008, just one-percentage point behind the 66% of whites that turned out to vote that year. Think about that. The very first time a Black candidate was a nominee from one of the two-major political parties, more than one-third of eligible Black voters still stayed home.
While Black turnout far exceeds Hispanic and Asian turnout, this is no time for moral victories. Policies enacted by the majority political party do have real consequences for every American, but too many Americans fail to see the connection between November election results and consequences in their day-to-day lives. The effects of stay-at-home voters is particularly damaging to black voters because their needs from government are so acute.
The Paul Ryan budget, for instance, with its draconian cuts in federal spending on working-class programs to pay for tax cuts for the top 1%, will become law if Obama loses. African Americans would then feel the pain every day for years to come as government services shrink and income security becomes even more of a myth.
Yes, there are obstacles to voting. Political scientists refer to these obstacles as “costs,” be they registration requirements, standing in line, learning about the candidates, etc. After 2008, the GOP decided to enact even more barriers to the vote, so in state after GOP-dominated state, Republicans legislatures and governors created onerous voter identification requirements to make voting even harder.
In Florida, Republicans went even further still by imposing the threat of stiff sanctions on non-partisan groups that simply want to register voters. Smartly, a federal judge overturned that law for placing a “virtually impossible burden” on civic-minded groups, but the lesson is unmistakable – the GOP will go to any lengths to keep potential Democratic supporters from voting.
Investing millions of dollars in get-out-the-vote efforts certainly contributed to Obama’s 2008 victory, yet, all that money still had no effect on at least one-third of black voters. If the Obama campaign were to ask me how to win the election (believe me, they won’t), I would advise that the best way is for each surefire voter to commit to turning one person they know from a nonvoter into a voter.
The truth though, is that individual campaigns cannot do it all, explaining why the NAACP launched This Is My Vote, and now Politic 365 has launched #Voice Your Vote to remind and encourage people why voting is so important.