Historic Black Voter Turnout Outpaced All Other Ethic Groups In 2012 Presidential Election (VIDEO)

According to a Census Bureau report released this week, African-Americans voted at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in the 2012 presidential election. Here to talk about what drove that historic turnout and how to leverage our political power is Marvin Randolph, Senior Vice President for Campaigns for the NAACP; and Dr. Michael McDonald, Associate Professor in the Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University.

MR. MARTIN:  Welcome to “Washington Watch.”

According to a Census Bureau report released this week, African-Americans voted at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in the 2012 presidential election.  Here to talk about what drove that historic turnout and how to leverage our political power is Marvin Randolph, Senior Vice President for Campaigns for the NAACP; and Dr. Michael McDonald, Associate Professor in the Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University.

Gentlemen, welcome to the show.



MR. MARTIN:  Doc, I want to start with you first, because folks are saying, “Oh, man!  2012 – this is historic!”  But you went through all of these numbers and said, “Wait a minute.  We saw,” frankly, “the history being made actually in 2008.”

DR. MCDONALD:  That’s correct.  So, you have to understand we’re talking about survey data here, and there’re all sorts of things that go on with survey data.  We don’t even know for sure if African-American turnout was higher than white turnout in 2012, but if we do some adjustments on the numbers, [and if] we look at some of the survey issues that are prevalent in all surveys, actually it looked as though 2008 was the watershed moment for turnout for African-Americans.

MR. MARTIN:  And really what has been driving these numbers?  Black women. ’08, they voted at a higher rate than any other group in the country.  And that’s why a lot of sisters have been saying to the President, “We want to see a black woman on the Supreme Court.  We want to see more black, female cabinet members,” because they really have been the driving force in these numbers, Marvin.

MR. RANDOLPH:  Yeah, that’s absolutely the case.  That’s absolutely the case.

And I think the real story here is that we went into 2012 thinking that there would be historic voter turnout, being lower.  We thought that there would be an enthusiasm gap, but what we saw was the opposite.  And in respect of what the numbers actually say, it was higher than it’s ever been.  It was significant, and it shows that the black folk can’t be ignored at this important moment.

MR. MARTIN:  But I’ll be honest with you.  In March of 2012, the Obama campaign was very nervous about that black voter turnout.  Now, you had different advisors saying, “Oh, we’re going to turn out more than we did in 2008.  “But, Michael, what was a critical issue – and we said it on this show, because we saw it; we saw what was happening on the ground – there were a lot of people who were not as enthused about supporting President Obama ’12 as they were [in] ’08.

But when the Republicans began to drive these voter suppression efforts:  these voter ID laws, cutting early voting – frankly, that pissed off a lot of black voters/

DR. MCDONALD:  Right, but I’ll say, though, there’s one group of African-American voters, one group of white voters, Hispanic that didn’t show up to vote; and it’s actually very important in this 2012 election and moving forward, which is young people.  So, we actually saw a significant drop in turnout from 18 to 24-year-olds among all different ethnic and racial groups –

MR. MARTIN:  No- — l- —

DR. MCDONALD:  — and –

MR. MARTIN:  — go ahead.

DR. MCDONALD:  — yeah, yeah.

So, part of it – I don’t know if it was suppression, because it would be more difficult for these folks to –

MR. MARTIN:  Well, according – [crosstalk] –

DR. MCDONALD:  — register – [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — University of Chicago study that we did right before the election, they estimated that was going to happen because of many of those voter ID laws – because, for instance, in Georgia, they passed a law that said if you went to a private school – Spelman or Morehouse – you couldn’t use your student ID, but if you went to Georgia Tech, you could.  So, we saw the same thing happen in other states where there were efforts to sort of target, you know, many of those young folks who were voting.

DR. MCDONALD:  And it’s kind of – very important, because voting is a habit.  Once you vote once, you’re much more likely to vote again, and we sort of lost this group of people who became of age to vote in the 2012 election.  And so it’s going to be very critical for all groups – NAACP, the Democrats, everybody – to really concentrate on these young voters so we don’t lose them permanently.  We[’ve] got to get them back into the electorate.

MR. MARTIN:  Let’s walk through some of those critical states.  What were some of the critical states where we saw – we know Ohio, they exceeded 2008.  That was a critical place.  What are some of the other states where we saw dramatic increases?

MR. RANDOLPH:  Well, you know, we actually built a program in 12 states across the nation, and in 11 of those states you saw significant increases – places like Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan and also in the state of Pennsylvania.  So, there were, you know, 11 in total that we did work in.

But, Roland, I think the important thing here to note is that, you know, we can quibble about what the numbers say; but the numbers were bigger than they[‘d] ever been.  We can quibble about whether or not youth turned out more or less in the last election; but clearly, there were more systematic, coordinated, well-funded voting rights attacks than ever this last election year.  And there were a number of things that contributed to it.  Obviously, a black man being [up for] reelection, the voting rights attacks.

But this didn’t happen by accident.  It was because groups like the Association and many of our partners in the field actually educated people on what the problems were; got them access to tools so that they could vote, and they could get registered; registered 375,553 voters and turned out 1 million because we worked against those.  The backlash had a backlash.  The blowback and a blowback, and we built the most coordinated, unprecedented campaign that we’ve ever done –

MR. MARTIN:  But the concern –

MR. RANDOLPH:  — in – [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — that I –

MR. RANDOLPH:  — few years.

MR. MARTIN:  — have is not necessarily — great.  This is what happened in ’12.  The issue that I have is – all right, in ’13.  The school board races –


MR. MARTIN:  — the city council races; the state rep, state senate races.  2014 that’s the midterm.  And so for me, what I want to see, and what we have preached on this show consistently, is that if we’ve shown the kind of power that we have with turnout, then we’re able to now impact more than just a presidential race, because you can’t complain about voter suppression and voter ID laws without realizing they’re being passed by state legislatures.  And so if you don’t vote in state rep and state senate races and gubernatorial races, then you’re going to still be having the same battle come 2016.

DR. MCDONALD:  And something else that I do is redistricting work, and so part of the puzzle here –

MR. MARTIN:  Which is established by legislatures.

DR. MCDONALD:  — established by legislatures.  So, very important.

But there was a strategy among Republicans, particularly in the South, to concentrate [and] pack in blacks into overwhelmingly black districts more than what was required of the Voting Rights Act.  And so we saw this “max black” strategy throughout the South, and in some cases people were very blatant about it and said, “Our strategy is to make the Democratic Party a party of color so you can’t build biracial coalitions in the South anymore.”

And because they’ve done this, it makes it that less important for African-American votes in some key, state legislative elections across the South.  And, thus, there’s less incentive for those people to go out and vote, because now their local election’s already been determined –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

DR. MCDONALD:  — by the way in which the lines are drawn.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.  Marvin, about 15 seconds left.  How vital is it going to be though, for that infrastructure to stay in place not just every four years, but have to be there every year to affect every election?  Because local elections, frankly, matter more than presidential elections in the lives of everyday Americans.

MR. RANDOLPH:  Well, it’s essential.  “All politics is local,” and our job is to make sure that between now and 2016, we remind people if you care about Trayvon, who the police commissioner is matters.  If you care about your education system, who the school board is matters.  If you care about Medicaid expansion or Obamacare, who your legislators are matters.

So, we’re not going to stop just with the folks we registered this year.  We’re going to build on that.  By the time we get to 2016, we’ll have a million registered voters in the bank, and we’ll turn out 2.5 million.  And we are waging those fights in places like death penalty fight-backs, like we just did, repealing the death penalties; taking those local issues and showing people how they can turn their ballot into power –

MR. MARTIN:  All right.

MR. RANDOLPH:  — in things they care about.

MR. MARTIN:  Gentlemen, we appreciate it.  Thanks a lot.

MR. RANDOLPH:  Thank you.

DR. MCDONALD:  Thank you.