Race and Politics

Black Voter Turnout and Obama's Southern Strategy

Faye Anderson, citizen journalist

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its report on voter turnout in the 2006 midterm election. Forty-eight percent of the voting-age population took their soles to the polls, up from 42 percent in 2002. Seven million more Americans exercised their right to vote.
That was the highest turnout in a midterm election since 1994. That election turned out congressional Democrats and marked the beginning of the so-called Republican Revolution.

The report's findings include:
* White turnout was higher than black, 52 percent compared with 41 percent.
* Hispanics and Asians turned out at the same rate, 32 percent.
* Whites had the highest voter registration rate (71 percent), followed by blacks (61 percent), Hispanics (54 percent) and Asians (49 percent).
* Young people (18-to-24) had the lowest turnout rate (22 percent); people 55 and older had the highest (63 percent).
*Women register and vote at a higher rate than men.

The Census Bureau found that black Americans had about 30 percent greater odds of registering and 20 percent greater odds of voting than white Americans. And among African-Americans, those living in the Midwest were the most likely to vote, 48 percent compared with 41 percent in the South.

That's good news for Barack Obama who hopes a high black voter turnout in the battleground states of Michigan, Ohio and Missouri will propel him to victory.

While black voter turnout is historically lower in the South, where more than half of all African Americans live, the enthusiasm for Obama will likely bridge the turnout gap. Indeed, Obama's Southern strategy is targeting black voters in the hopes of turning some red states blue.

I asked my friend, Dr. David Bositis, senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, whether Obama can flip the script on the GOP's Southern strategy. While anything is possible, David thinks Obama has a good chance of winning Virginia and a middling chance in Florida. He added: "The rest of the South is too much of a long shot, even with substantial black turnout."

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, David said, "It's not like race does not matter in those states. It does. To win those states, he has to win more white voters, and it is not clear that he can."

Interestingly, David told me that Virginia is in play because it's more like Delaware, Colorado and Missouri than a Southern state. Florida, likewise, is more like Pennsylvania, Delaware and Arizona than a Deep South state.
The Census Report is available here.

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