As the 2012 election approached, Republican governors and legislators in battleground states across the country rushed to enact restrictive Voter ID laws, to eliminate election-day registration and to limit early voting. Those were just some of the initiatives that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People identified as “an onslaught of restrictive measures across the country designed to stem electoral strength among communities of color.” Why did so much energy go into the effort? John Payton, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, explained, “These block the vote efforts are a carefully targeted response to the remarkable growth of the minority electorate, and threaten to disproportionally diminish the voting strength of African-Americans and Latinos.” Civil rights groups pushed back, working with the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other organizations to mount legal and legislative challenges. But the most dramatic pushback may well have been the determined voter registration and mobilization drives organized on the ground in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other battleground states.
A key supporter of the Ohio voter registration and turnout drive, State Senator Nina Turner says, “Republicans thought that they could suppress the vote, but these efforts actually motivated people to get registered and cast a ballot. It’s no surprise that the communities targeted by these policies came out to the polls in a big way—they saw this not just as an affront to their rights, but as a call to action.”
Turner’s point turns out to be highly significant.
According to a new study produced by Brookings Institution demographer William Frey for the Associated Press, 2012 turnout was down overall from 2004 and 2008. But, according to Frey’s analysis of census data on eligible voters and turnout, as well as exit polling, African-American turnout was by key measures greater than white voter turnout.
That made headlines: “In a First, Black Voter Turnout Rate Passes Whites.”
That’s a historic development worth noting.
In 2012, according to the study, African-American voters “outperformed” as compared with their percentage of the population—forming 13 percent of the electorate, as opposed to 12 percent of the population.
Non-Hispanic white voters have traditionally outperformed their percentage of the population. That was still the case in 2012. But, according to AP, the margin was down, and overall the white turnout nationwide wasoff by millions of votes.
That looks to have been quite important for President Obama’s reelection campaign. Polling data tells us that the president always retained a good measure of popularity in the African-American community, as he did among young people. There was plenty of talk before the 2012 election, however, about an “enthusiasm gap” that would undermine turnout for the president.
But the Reverend Al Sharpton, the president of the National Action Network and the host of MSNBC’sPolitics Nation, says anger over voter suppression did much to alter the dynamic.