For Some Black Voters, 2012 Is A Different Story In 2008, African-Americans turned out in record numbers to help elect America's first black president. Their support remains high, but their enthusiasm is not what it used to be. At the Democratic National Convention, African-Americans reflect on the last four years and why some are not as excited.
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For Some Black Voters, 2012 Is A Different Story

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For Some Black Voters, 2012 Is A Different Story

For Some Black Voters, 2012 Is A Different Story

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Four years ago, black voters threw all their might behind Barack Obama and helped send him to the White House. There were tearful testimonials about casting a vote for the first black president. Turnout among African-Americans was as high as 73 percent in some states, and that turnout was key to Mr. Obama's victories in states like North Carolina, which he won by fewer than 14,000 votes.

Well, this week, at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, our co-host Audie Cornish talked to black voters about how they're feeling four years on.


This is how George Battle, Jr. remembers Election Day 2008.

GEORGE BATTLE, JR.: There was long lines, voting over into the night and very, very, very, very happy, Was just a feeling of elation that you never had before.

CORNISH: Battle is a senior bishop with the AME Zion Church. He's also a delegate at the convention representing North Carolina. This fall, he's afraid the lines won't be so long. He sees disappointment among those who thought life under a black president would change overnight. Instead came the reality of tough economic times.

BATTLE: I get more calls from kids in college about helping them with their tuition, you know. Their parents lost their job, can I help them. I get calls from people that are about to lose their houses and have lost their cars and their job is downsizing and they are the first one they let go, and they just don't know what to do.

CORNISH: More than a quarter of the delegates at this week's convention are black and Democrats are counting on people like Battle to help energize voters this fall.

BATTLE: Well, as an individual, I plan to travel the entire state.

CORNISH: Is it harder this time around, do you think?

BATTLE: Of course, it will be, but, you know, black folks and African-Americans are used to hard times. It's nothing unusual.

CORNISH: Four years ago, college students played a key role in turning out the black vote. This week, the Congressional Black Caucus convened a seminar at Johnson C. Smith University. Black student leaders from more than a dozen colleges were there to meet members of Congress and share in the excitement of the convention. Rena Bates(ph), a senior at UNC Charlotte, was too young to vote in 2008, but she does remember her high school awash in Obama shirts and posters. She says everyone was on the Obama bandwagon.

RENA BATES: But just to see somebody different and to see someone who looks somewhat like us, you know, we were, like, down for the cause kind of thing. And I feel like, today, it's still that same picture, but I feel like now people are starting to realize, OK, what does he do for me? I feel like now we're voting with a more educational vote than just a bandwagon vote.

CORNISH: While many in this crowd credit the president with securing their financial aid, others see a lack of progress on issues that matter to them, foremost on the economy. The unemployment rate among African Americans stands at 14 percent, but Thomas Sumter, a senior at Voorhees College, says another problem is complacency.

THOMAS SUMTER: Right now, I think, as minorities, we kind of are believing that since we already elected the first African-American president that this year we can take a laid-back approach to the election.

CORNISH: So people, you think, are just not taking the same, what, action or involvement?

SUMTER: They're taking the same action, but it's not as aggressive as '08.

TIMOTHY GRAHAM: Considering what he inherited, I think he's doing a great job.

CORNISH: This is Timothy Graham, 50 years old, a student and a student mentor at Central Piedmont Community College. He'd lost his right to vote after being convicted of a felony. In 2008, he discovered his voting rights could be restored. He cast his first ever vote for Barack Obama and he plans to vote for him again in November.

GRAHAM: My personal opinion, if it goes the way the Republicans wants it to go, it'll just be two classes, the rich and the poor. I think we just need to give him another four years for the plan that he's already set in place to take full fruition.

CORNISH: Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and a speaker at this gathering, says one thing is clear. The president cannot go into this election with any arrogance. He says, sure, President Obama is likely to still get 95 to 97 percent of the black vote, but...

REPRESENTATIVE EMANUEL CLEAVER: The question that the president is asking and that all of us are asking is 95 or 97 percent of what total? We realize that there's going to be some fall-off. It's inevitable. What we cannot have is people who are not excited because they feel that the president did not walk on water and so the decide to stay home. This election will be like all the other elections where we have to go out and knock on doors and pull people out and put them in cars, whereas four years ago, they were standing out on curbs in the rain, sleet, snow, hurricane, volcanic eruptions, it didn't matter. That's not going to happen this time.

CORNISH: Emanuel Cleaver compared it to a second wedding. The party may not be as exciting as the first, but that's no reason to stay home.

SIEGEL: Our co-host Audie Cornish at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

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