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National Urban League: “Black Vote Critical to Obama Victory”

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President holds edge among African American voters

Chris Levister

In its report “The Hidden Swing Voters: The Impact of African Americans in 2012,” the National Urban League sends a clear message: “The Black Vote Does Matter.”

One of the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations says the number of Black voters who turn out to vote in the upcoming elections could play a huge role in several swing states. A swell of Black voters was the difference in several states in 2008, according to the report, which focused on North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio in particular. "Essentially, African American voters in a number of key states hold the key to the outcome of the 2012 election," Marc Morial, the Urban League's president, said.

According to the July 2012 report, the voter turnout rate among African Americans jumped 5 percentage points between 2004 and 2008, from 60 percent to nearly 65 percent. The 2008 election also saw 2.4 million more Black voters cast ballots than in 2004 -- more than double the pace at which the country's Black population grew.

Black voter turnout of 64.7 percent was a significant factor in Obama’s victory in 2008, and African Americans are considered solidly behind Obama now. But having achieved the milestone of electing Obama as the nation’s first Black president, Black voters may be less motivated to return to the polls in droves again, the Urban League said. Assuming no change in 2008 voting patterns, Urban League researchers said, Black turnout at about 60 percent or below could cost Obama North Carolina and make it difficult for him to win Ohio and Virginia. In addition to diminished voter enthusiasm, the still-ailing economy, persistent high unemployment among Blacks, new state voting laws and limited growth in the African American population could help discourage turnout.

“President Obama does not take a single vote or support from any community for granted and he is working to secure the same levels of support based on policies that give everyone a fair shot and the opportunity to succeed,” said Clo Ewing of the Obama campaign. She cited the payroll tax, job training, education and health care reform as areas the president has worked hard to improve. She noted that all these efforts benefit African Americans. Obama and presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney stand in a virtual dead heat in North Carolina, according to Real Clear Politics. Obama boasts a narrow, albeit widening lead in Ohio and a small, shrinking lead in Virginia.

Winning North Carolina was seen as a major and symbolic for then- Senator Obama, when he barely edged out Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to capture the state's 15 electoral votes. North Carolina had been a reliably Republican state in presidential elections since 1964 -- it had only voted for a Democrat once in three decades until Obama’s 2008 win. Virginia, which Obama also won in 2008, had not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in the last 10 elections going back to 1972. Ohio, the third state in the study and another won by Obama in 2008, is a famous bellwether of national elections. Ohio has voted for every presidential winner, except one, since 1944. The Urban League study found that Black turnout, by percentage of eligible voters, nearly reached parity with that of White voters in 2008. "In 2008, there was only a 1.8 percent difference in Black and White turnout," said Chanelle Hardy, the Urban League's policy director.

"That's just an amazingly high water mark for democracy. Armed with that information, we're in a strong position to tell each and every African American voter -- 'your vote does matter’." African-American voters are the most likely group to actually vote if they are registered, according to the study. About 93 percent of registered Blacks vote in national elections, compared to 90 percent of Whites and 84 percent of Hispanics.

But it was among younger voters that the surge of African Americans to the polls was most evident. Among voters between 18 and 44, Blacks actually outpaced Whites. For the first time in history, Whites were not the biggest proportion of an age group, Madura Wijewardena, an analyst at the Urban League said.

Morial said that given these trends, it's not a coincidence that Republican-dominated legislatures have passed voter ID laws, which require voters to provide certain forms of official ID in order to vote. "We think it has a lot to do with the fact that you had extraordinary turnout in 2008," he said.

Obama is set to address the National Urban League Conference on July 25 in New Orleans. The conference is focused on increasing employment for African-Americans, who now face a jobless rate of 13.6 percent, nearly 5 percentage points higher than the national average. The high unemployment rate has prompted African-American leaders in the past to appeal to Obama to resist making deep cuts to programs that benefit urban communities. Less than four months from Election Day, President Obama has an edge in support among women, African-Americans, Hispanics and young people, groups that could swing the race in November. He retains the power of incumbency and people generally like him. But there are growing indications that Obama's supporters aren't as enthusiastic about him as they once were, and the Democrat no longer is in a fundraising league of his own, with Republican Mitt Romney and GOP-leaning groups raking in the campaign cash. Plus, the shaky economy, which crashed in fall of 2008 and helped Obama capture the presidency, is a huge vulnerability. Come November, The National Urban League warns a sustained economic slowdown could trump all of his other advantages.

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