A new analysis of voter behavior in the 2008 presidential election released yesterday by the Census Bureau confirms that an engaged Black electorate can have an impact on electoral outcomes.
The data shows that in the November 2008 contest between Barack Obama and John McCain the difference in white and Black voter participation disappeared. The actual difference was just 4 percent, down from 10 percent four years earlier. Equally significant is the finding that 2 million more Blacks cast ballots last fall, as well as an equal number of Latinos and 200,000 more Asian American voters. Other reports have chronicled the increase in Black women voters' turnout last November.
What is clear is that old stereotypes that Blacks don't vote were thoroughly countered by the flood of Black voters to the polls across the country. The data also makes clear that we vote when we are motivated and sense that a candidate will address our issues and concerns. No doubt, the historic nature of the Obama campaign motivated many Blacks to vote. This is understandable but it is the intensity of the vote that suggests the potential to mobilize a new generation of civic activist within the Black community. The last time we had such an opportunity was during the presidential run of Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988.
The real challenge is to take this resurgence in Black voter participation and extend it to races at the state and local level. We must begin to understand the need to engage at the state legislative, school board and city or town council level to bring about real and lasting change. While the presidency is clearly the most symbolic representation of power, the actions of local elected officials have more of a day to day impact on our quality of life. It does us no good to vote in large numbers for Barack Obama and then to sit on our hands when matters concerning our children's education, local economic development, law enforcement and criminal justice, and property taxes are being discussed. Our absence from a community level engagement leaves us just that much more vulnerable in national policy debates.
Lastly, we call attention to Latino voter turnout. The huge outpouring of Latino voters and their support of Barack Obama should put to rest the silly debate over whether a Black candidate can gain the support of the Hispanic electorate. It was never a real issue but conveniently used to stoke the flames by a restless news media that saw the "value" in creating a Black v. Latino conflict. The evidence shows otherwise and both communities would be well served to continue to embrace our mutual interests. The recent Senate confirmation hearing of Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a lesson in the shared struggles of two communities that have a natural symbiosis that should compel our cooperation and mutual respect.
With mid-term elections coming next year we should make every effort to replicate our November 2008 turnout, and give the President the voting margin he needs in Congress to make good on his agenda.