Black Conn. Lawmaker Says He's Gay
FARAI CHIDEYA: This is News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. This historic election has inspired a flood of newly-registered voters. But who are they? What's motivating them to cast their ballots? We'll take a look at three new voters to find out.
First, we're going to talk about national voter trends with Kareem Crayton. He's an associate professor of law and political science at the University of Southern California. Kareem, how are you?
Mr. KAREEM CRAYTON (Associate Professor of Law and Political Science, University of Southern California): I'm very well. Thank you.
CHIDEYA: So, new voters - one demographic, many different types of people, what are we looking at?
Mr. CRAYTON: Many different types of people and they are as diverse I think as the country is. They include young voters, they include people who have been disaffected, who haven't voted in the last few elections, they include some older voters as well, and of course you have newly naturalized citizens who are voting for the first time.
CHIDEYA: We're going to talk to a couple types of those voters, but it's harder to find the disaffected voters. They seem to keep a very low profile, except for some rappers who say, OK, I never voted before, but maybe I'll vote this time around.
Do you think that there is a groundswell of people who may be disaffected voters, particularly people who have been eligible to vote in past elections, but simply have chosen not to, who may come out this time?
Mr. CRAYTON: Certainly so. There actually has been one survey recently that the Wall Street Journal and NBC did to identify some of those lapsed voters, and asked them a number of questions about how they're viewing the election.
They represent, if you combine them with new voters, about 10 percent of the electorate and many of them have a lot of cynicism, not surprisingly, toward Federal Government and have a lot of expectations of what a new administration might do.
And so, this election partly because of the issues, partly because of the candidates involved, is likely to bring out a lot of new people, I think, who haven't been involved in the electorate in the past.
CHIDEYA: Let's just be frank here. Are we mainly talking about Democrats and Obama supporters, because there's also information that shows that most of the new voter registration that's going on that is for one of the two major parties is Democratic registration? Is this something that benefits one party more than the other?
Mr. CRAYTON: Well, I think it is fair to say that the lion's share of these new and lapsed voters, as we call them, have been inclined towards voting for Barack Obama. The number suggests that it's about 65 to 30 in terms of the percentage of people who prefer him over John McCain.
But I don't think it's necessarily the case if they are Democrats per se. I think these are people who don't really have a particular view of one party or the other. They want new policies that benefit them. They are concerned about the economy and they want whoever is out there who's going to be responsive to their concerns.
CHIDEYA: When you have a group of people whether it's new voters who really just - you know, literally just turned 18, and can't wait to get to the polls or people who were disaffected nonvoters, what kind of messaging do you think appeals to these groups? What kind of messaging might campaigns be putting out to reach these groups?
Mr. CRAYTON: Right. Well, it's tied in part to the comment I just made earlier which is, they don't necessarily buy into the my-party-is-better-than-your-party argument, instead what they're looking for is a response to real problems.
If you look at the different set of issues that they think are most important. The economy is the biggest concern, and it's something obviously that has national ramifications, but also hits people right at home in the pocketbook. And so they are looking for the candidates who respond to those concerns.
And so the parties in trying to frame a message, I think they're going to - and they have so far - try to make the argument that this candidate and the policies that they are for would be good for America, but they'd benefit you specifically for the following three or four reasons.
And so that's I think messaging - that's the message that both of these candidates, I think, are trying to articulate in the last few days before the election.
CHIDEYA: How reliable are first-time and new voters?
Mr. CRAYTON: There's the rough. Unfortunately, it's not as great yield as you might expect. The same poll I was referring to earlier asked new voters and lapsed voters how interested are you in this election, very or not?
The very side got about 49 percent and only about 54 percent said they were definitely going to vote in the election. So there is a lot of money put into getting these people on the voting rolls as registered voters. It's not necessarily a one-to-one connection between the registered voter and the actual voter that comes out on Election Day.
But they're going to pour lots of money on both sides to get these folks out to vote. They've identified them. They found new and innovative ways of doing that, so they're going to pour money into getting them out on Election Day as much as they can.
CHIDEYA: Give me an example, because I know that a lot of people question whether or not the polls have reflected new voters, because so many people now are using cell phones only, and there is no home number. So how are you and other political scientists, as well as the political parties trying to track people down?
Mr. CRAYTON: Right. Well, some of the ways in which people have tried to kind of expand the pie beyond on the typical likely voter, is to use things like the Internet. So a lot of polls have tried to specifically identify a lot of these voters by going where they live.
Young voters tend to use the Internet a lot more than others, and so typically we try to incorporate that into the analysis.
The other benefit actually that has happened over the course of time is that the government itself has done a better job of keeping track of people when they register, and whether or not they're voting.
So it's easier to put together a list of people who are in that category of lapsed voters if you just look back in a pretty easy electronic database of people who have at least been registered to vote, but maybe haven't voted since the early 2000 or perhaps even the late 1990s.
CHIDEYA: Well, professor, thanks.
Mr. CRAYTON: You're quite welcome.
CHIDEYA: That was Kareem Crayton. He's an associate professor of law and political science at the University of Southern California. He joined us from our studios here at NPR West. But what about the folks who are standing in voting lines for the first time, we have got three of them, each with a different cut on politics.
Amal Bennett-Judge is president of the Howard University Democrats, Reginald Darby is vice president of the Howard University Republicans, and Meri Nana-Ama Danquah of Hollywood just became a citizen of the United States. Thanks guys for coming on the show.
Mr. REGINALD DARBY (Vice President, Howard University Republicans): Wow! Thank you.
Ms. MERI NANA-AMA DANQUAH (New U.S. Citizen): Thank you.
Mr. DARBY: We definitely appreciate this.
CHIDEYA: Yeah. So, Meri, I guess it's not quite fresh, but it's close. You know, it's in recent history you got naturalized. Was the idea that you would be a voter as a former Ghanaian citizen, was becoming an American something that you did in part to vote?
Ms. DANQUAH: Absolutely, absolutely. Because as you know, before you become a citizen, you do have a green card, a permanent resident, a status. So it is possible to live legally, but not have the right to vote. So for me, that was definitely one of the reasons why I decided to become a citizen.
CHIDEYA: You have a child here. You have, of course, a career here, friends, all that, and did you have any regret when you had to make that choice? I mean, first of all, do you have to give up your Ghanaian citizenship?
Ms. DANQUAH: No. Ghana recognizes dual citizenship, so…
CHIDEYA: Some people do, some people don't.
Ms. DANQUAH: Yeah. So it is actually possible since they're having an election for me to get on a plane, and go there and vote as well.
CHIDEYA: That's a lot of work to get your responsibilities all taken care of. What's your investment in this election?
Ms. DANQUAH: Like anyone else, it's the economy. I'm a single mother and I have a child that's about to go to college, and buying groceries is becoming more and more of a challenge. Keeping a roof over one's head is becoming more and more of a challenge. So certainly that, certainly that.
CHIDEYA: All right. I'm going to turn to our students. We've got two folks from Howard University.
Mr. DARBY: Yeah.
Ms. AMAL BENNETT-JUDGE (President, Howard University Democrats): Yes.
Mr. DARBY: HU.
CHIDEYA: Yup. Democrats?
Ms. JUDGE: And Republicans.
Mr. DARBY: Definitely Republican.
CHIDEYA: All right. Speaking from different sides of the aisle, I'm going to start with you, Reginald.
Mr. DARBY: Awesome.
CHIDEYA: First of all, what's your level of excitement about being in your first presidential race?
Mr. DARBY: Wow! You just don't imagine. I remember way back in 2000 when I actually sat in front of my TV, and I was watching the whole Al Gore-Bush election and my mom who is a huge Democrat, and back then I thought I was one too. I would just sit there and I was like, oh, my gosh.
Who's going to do this? What state is going to be here? Oh, this states red, this is purple, this is blue. What does purple mean? But now that I actually understand what's going on, and I know that I can make that difference by casting my vote and encouraging others to do the same, then there's nothing to stop me now. I'm so ecstatic.
CHIDEYA: Yesterday, we had on Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland a big hit at the Republican convention, and he talked a little bit about what he thought the fortunes of the party would be, and of, you know, sort of opportunities for black Republicans or for the Republican Party to really get black voters. He was not hopeful, but you remain faithful. Why?
Mr. DARBY: Absolutely for the simple fact I see it as this, I go to Howard University which is a very liberal school. However, we have outlets such as the city of Washington D.C. being that's where we're based at, where we can learn about the different opportunities that the Republican Party offers. And, also we're able to have a different perspective.
Right now, I currently work for the House Republican Conference, and as I work in that office, I see everyday the different type of benefits that could work with the African-American community.
For me personally, I was able to work not only, like I said, with the House Republican Conference, but with individuals throughout the community and I know, like my mom for example, she's a single parent who makes a certain amount of money a year and not much, but she's still considered middle-class American.
But different issues like health care, education which affects me, they all connect back to the Republican Party and if I'm able to address that, if I'm able to continuously live by example with these different types of standards that I have with the Republican Party, then like I said before, nothing is able to stop us.
CHIDEYA: All right. Amal, I'm going to have to go to you. You get a different perspective from the Howard University Democrats. What have you been doing?
Ms. BENNETT-JUDGE: What have I been doing?
CHIDEYA: Programmatically to reach out to your fellow students.
Ms. BENNETT-JUDGE: We've been doing so many things. One of the things we've been really utilizing is the social network, Facebook. I think Senator Obama has been absolutely ingenious in the fact that he's really tried to get our age group engaged in this political process by having like different Facebook groups and through these Facebook groups, we're able to send messages out to students to let them know that we can go canvass for Senator Obama, or that they can volunteer at the local Obama headquarters, which is like two blocks away from our school, by phone banking, but also helping with data-entry sheets.
Some other programs that I've been planning, on October 25th and November 1st, we'll be going back to Virginia again to do some more canvassing, because as you know, Virginia is such an important state and hasn't been Democratic since the early 1960s.
And if you look at the Gala(ph) polls and things, you'll see that the race is really, really close and right now, he's leading. And we really need to bring out people in Virginia to make sure they vote. So...
CHIDEYA: Meri, you're in California.
Ms. DANQUAH: Yes.
CHIDEYA: And although we saw Governor Palin here for a rally, this is a solidly blue state overall.
Ms. DANQUAH: Yes.
CHIDEYA: What difference does voting make in that case?
Ms. DANQUAH: Well, I mean, I think that just because something is supposedly, solidly blue, doesn't mean that you shouldn't still go out and cast your vote. I think the whole process is important. Obviously, there are also local elections going on, so there's that.
And I think also just the whole practice of going out and participating, that's something - it's interesting listening to these young people talking because so many - there are so many outlets for them in terms of educating them on the process.
For new voters such as myself, it was really difficult to, first of all, learn what the process was. During the primaries, I had not a clue what was going on. And it can be very confusing and somewhat intimidating, especially for people who at one point, we're not engaged in the process while living in this country and then suddenly, are legal, are citizens, and are able to go and cast their vote.
So, you start to say well, OK. You get this big, thick book and you think, oh, I have to read all of this. And then find out about the issues, find out about the candidates, where to go to cast your vote. It can be very confusing if you're not part of the system already.
CHIDEYA: Did you find yourself in the end turning to the official guides, which you bring up or to friends or to non-profits? Where did you go?
Ms. DANQUAH: Interestingly enough, during the primaries, I did start by asking a lot of my friends, and was shocked to find out that very few of them understood the whole process themselves and that majority of them did not vote.
So, that was really shocking and that actually encouraged me to get more involved, and so I did contact the Obama campaign and I did work as a precinct captain, and just sort of jumped right in to find out what was going on, how things work. I mean, I didn't know what a super delegate was.
I didn't know any of that stuff. And you know, right now, trying to find out about the Electoral College and how is it possible that you can have the popular vote, but not win? How is it possible? I mean there are so many things that when you're not brought up in the system and so many new citizens are not.
Or even if you are brought up in the system, but are not able to vote and so therefore, you tune out certain things.
CHIDEYA: Or even if you're able to vote, but they don't have civics class anymore.
Ms. DANQUAH: That's true, too.
CHIDEYA: Well, that's why we're doing our month-long series on voting, and so we're going to try to hit as many of those topics as possible. But I want to open this up to Reginald. Considering that there are many - fewer black Republicans than Democrats, how do you go about shaking the trees and try to bring people together?
Mr. DARBY: I think, as I always believe, quality goes a lot farther than quantity. If you go to Howard University, our organization has grown from one person to two people to now, we have almost 30 members of our organization.
And we've had such experiences that have - like that most college student aren't able to experience. Being that, we've had the local GOP reach out to us and allow us to basically use them as a networking tool. We've been on BET a couple of weekends ago, registering people for the John McCain campaign.
Today, I'm here on NPR, speaking on national radio. And I think that right there just - it's a testament to what can be done, no matter how many number of people you have. Just to know that, you know, if you have the willingness and you have the hard work in you, anything can be possible.
CHIDEYA: Amal, when you think about this election and - how old are you? May I ask?
Ms. BENNETT-JUDGE: I'm 20 years old.
CHIDEYA: You're 20?
Ms. BENNETT-JUDGE: Two decades.
CHIDEYA: OK. Yup. You're two decades. A lot of people had to wait a long time for an election this historic. It happened to come at a very good time for you when you could vote and while you're still young. What does it mean to you to be a part of this election?
Ms. BENNETT-JUDGE: It means so much to me. I was recently having a conversation with someone and I told them - I said, youth have always been the catalyst for change. I said if you examine history, even if you examine our parents' age, the hurdles that they had were included the civil rights and the Vietnam War.
And I said even though our challenges are a little bit different, the thing is it's in our nature to be rebellious. And I said so, we can be rebellious in the fact that we can actually get out and vote, because it's been shown that our age group just doesn't care.
And so I think - I mean, I'm just so excited to be a part of this movement and it's really, really inspired me. Before this election, honestly, I was an apathetic for politics. I just - I've always kept up with politics through great news shows like Talk of the Nation, and All Things Considered, and C-SPAN.
But the things is, it's just I've always been very cynical. But after reading Senator Obama's book and saying that there can be something new in politics, I became inspired. I said, hmm. Well, since I can see the Capitol and the monument behind my - in my dorm room or dorm window, maybe I should go intern for them.
And so, after I went to go to intern for Senator Harry Reid, and Senator Obama's office is actually located on the seventh floor, it just opened up so many opportunities and I'm just so excited to be a part of a movement, and hopefully change the course in politics.
CHIDEYA: All right, we're going to have to wrap it up there. But Reginald, I know that you also have had a lot of contact with the system, both of you very engaged. And, Meri, always great to see you. Thank you all so much.
Ms. DANQUAH: Thank you. Bye.
Mr. DARBY: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: We were speaking with Amal Bennett-Judge, president of Howard University Democrats and Reginald Darby, the vice president of the Howard University Republicans. They both joined us from NPR's headquarters in Washington D.C. Plus, Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, a newly, naturalized citizen and author who lives in Hollywood.
She joined us from our studios at NPR West. And next on News and Notes, hip-hop mogul, Russell Simmons on working to mobilize voters. You're listening to News and Notes from NPR News.