The one thing that sets off the loudest bells and whistles at the White House is any hint of a diminution in the bedrock support of black voters for President Obama’s re-election bid in 2012. The dreaded faint tingling happened when Gallup recently released a poll that showed a not insignificant chink in Obama’s black voter bedrock. Gallup found that 85 percent of blacks gave Obama a thumbs up on the job he’s doing — that’s a drop for a still sky high 92 percent.
But the slide in Obama’s black support is not support lost from just any block of voters. The black vote is the undisputed core Democratic constituency. The Latino and labor vote are major factors for the Democratic Party and President Obama’s political calculations but surveys have shown that neither are the force that they have been for Democratic presidents in times past. The Gallup poll showed that Hispanic voter approval of Obama has fallen to just over fifty percent. And the decade long assault on labor has pushed union membership to its lowest levels in decades.
Then there are the moderate and conservative independents. They defected from the GOP in droves in 2008, and provided a sizable cushion that helped seal Obama’s election. This time around this may not be the case. The GOP has made up much ground in either getting a substantial number of independents back in their fold, or at best, their enthusiasm for Obama has cooled. They are not the reliable force for 2012 that they were four years ago.
The black vote is still Obama’s prime trump card. And they can’t just vote for him as the Democratic presidential standard bearer. They will do that anyway as they’ve done faithfully and loyally for every Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Win or lose, they’ve given every Democratic president or presidential candidate a lock on 80 to 90 percent of their vote. But it’s not percentages that will spell the margin of victory or defeat for the President Obama in 2012. It’s the number, big numbers, and passion and fervor, and lots of it that will make the difference. Black voters turned the 2008 presidential campaign into a sacred crusade. It was part identity politics, part pride, and all a sense of history in the making. The mass rush to the polls was the single biggest reason that Obama carried the traditional must-win states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, and broke the longstanding GOP grip on North Carolina and Virginia.
The novelty of his initial breakthrough campaign has worn off. Frustration and impatience has set in among many blacks over the chronic high unemployment, failing public schools, high incarceration rates, and worries about home foreclosures, and poverty continue unabated, and with seemingly no end or resolution in sight from the White House, this has caused far more second guessing of Obama among some blacks then the White House finds comfortable with 2012 just around the corner.
Obama made a backdoor acknowledgment of the danger to his re-election from any drop off in black support when he told the black tie dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus last year that he “needed everybody here to go back to your neighborhoods, to go back your workplaces, to go to the churches and go to the barbershops and go to the beauty shops. And tell them we’ve got more work to do.”
This simply reflected the stark political reality that he and for that matter many Democrat representatives and candidates could lose big if there’s a significant defection of black voters from the polls in 2012.
Obama again acknowledged the high stakes and the effort that will be required in 2012 when he warmly embraced and effusively praised Al Sharpton at the 20th annual National Action Network Convention in New York in early April. In his keynote address, Obama pulled out the stops in evoking the memory and spirit of the civil rights movement and linking it directly it to his re-election bid when he bluntly talked about sit-ins, the Selma voter registration march, and the battles for civil rights.
Obama rammed home the point that he’s the embodiment of that continuing struggle when he insisted that he’s been carrying that fight in the Oval Office and ended by flatly asking for black support to continue to fight on. The NAN speech was a de facto launch of the president’s “black vote initiative.” There’s now a White House website that targets African-Americans. Obama will be busy on the circuit in the coming months speaking to African-American groups nationally.
The outreach effort will work for the simple reason that black voters, no matter how much some grouse about the president not saying or doing enough specifically for African-Americans on the crucial area of jobs, and criminal justice reform, know that his initiatives on health care, the stimulus, financial reform, and extending unemployment benefits are measures that give some aid to distressed black communities. And a GOP president in tandem with a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives and a right-wing Congress would likely roll back the clock on decades of progress for blacks. They won’t desert the president.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent Grio contributor and associate editor of New America Media. He hosts a national Capitol Hill broadcast radio talk show on KTYM Radio Los Angeles and WFAX Radio Washington D.C. streamed on The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on blogtalkradio.com and wfax.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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