In political science circles a debate has been continuously raging about 2012 turnout for minorities. Many on the left side of the spectrum contend it is to increase while some on the right argue the opposite. Well now it appears that this debate has gone into DC all the way to the White House. Obama top aide David Plouffe recently commented on surveys showing the president trailing Romney, Gallup and Rasmussen Reports Daily tracking surveys, that they were underestimating minority turnout in 2012. Plouffe of course pointed to surveys like CNN, Reuters and Quinnipiac showing the president ahead of Romney and each survey had larger minority samples than either RR or Gallup.
Different surveyors of course use different sample sizes and samples. This inevitably means that the polls results will be skewed by their samples. Now with that little background given I would like to indicate to three points, which are not partisan in nature, about why minority turnout will not be much greater, if even equal, to 2008 minority turnout and then discuss two other reasons, in lesser detail, why minority turnout may be stagnant or drop.
1. African-American turnout was historic in 2008: In 2008 African-Americans maxed out turnout. They made up a whopping 13% of the electorate in 2008. This represented a significant 2% increase from 2004 in which 11% of the electorate was Africa-American, a record at that time. Many Democratic strategists recognize this and thus contend that minority turnout will not increase among African-Americans but among Hispanics/Latinos. This theory has problems which I will later elaborate on in point 2. For African-American turnout to grow, let alone even stay at 2008 levels, is likely to require a lucky set of factors. First, African-Americans must not be turned off by the bad economy that much. The unemployment rate among blacks in many communities and states is far higher than the national average and the median income of an African-American family has all but disappeared since 08. Second, 2012’s electoral circumstances must equal the 2008 context of electing the 1st minority president in US history. Somehow, reelection does not speak to being as historic as the “first election of a minority president in US history.” And lastly, younger African-Americans must be attracted to vote for the president. In 2008 Obama won young voters by a huge margin and many were young Hispanics and African-Americans. Obama cannot not have young African-American voters turn out if he wants them to equal 13% or more of the electorate in 2012.
2. Latino/Hispanic Turnout has been stagnant since 2004: Democratic strategists largely contend the minority share of the electorate will increase due to the growth of the Hispanic population in the US. The problem is that past history argues otherwise. Since the 2004 election Hispanic turnout has been largely stagnant. In 2004 Hispanic turnout was roughly 8% of the electorate, 7.5% in 2006, 8% in 2008 and 8% in 2010. Even including for the fact that the down economy depressed Hispanic turnout in 2010 it does not explain why Hispanic turnout was stagnant from 04-08. Much as the economic recession has hurt African-Americans the recession has hurt Hispanics. The recession has virtually wiped out the construction industry in many areas in the West where Hispanics are a large share of the population. And as a result Hispanics in NV, AZ and CO, and NM have high unemployment rates. If Hispanic turnout does not increase than it could pose a major dilemma for th Obama campaign. Even if Hispanic turnout does not increase in 2012 Obama can probably assume if he comes anywhere near winning 60% of the Hispanic vote he has New Mexico. But after that in places such as NV, CO and AZ, where the Hispanic share of the population is far smaller than the 46% in NM the math gets dicey. And for the Obama campaign that would be unwelcome news indeed on the electoral front.
3. White turnout could be equal to 2010 levels in 2012: In 2010 the white share of the electorate was 78%, far greater than the 74% share it made up of 2008 and roughly equal to the 79% share in 2006. It is a well-known fact that presidential elections tend to bring out a more diverse electorate than midterms but the question is by how much? Since 2000 minority turnout has increased in presidential elections. But this is again due almost solely to African-American increases in turnout. Thus if African-American and Hispanic turnout lags it is very likely white turnout will increase correspondingly. An interesting set of factors could also be in play here to increase white turnout. 1) Democrats have essentially ceded the white vote to the GOP, particularly blue-collar whites. This means the GOP has added incentive to work miracles to increase turnout. 2) Both the Obama and Romney campaigns have said the battle will be in the suburbs, particularly among white women. Both candidates campaigns thus will invest a vast amount of their resources to turn out these voters along with their bases. 3) The sour economy speaks for itself. The recession has badly hurt minorities and while many whites are struggling their median wealth is far greater than African-Americans or Hispanics. This in turn could correspond to an increase in white turnout and decrease in minority turnout.
Of course there are other reasons why minority turnout may not even increase from 2008. Many of the same minority votes that enthusiastically backed Obama in 2008, while saying they support him in head to head matchups in the polls, show less than tepid enthusiasm for him. Hispanic approval of the president has shrunk by almost 20 points since 2008. And among age groups. regardless of race, the president has seen his approval drop. That drop cut across all demographic boundaries the president’s approval has stagnated, if not gotten worse. This means beyond just the political issues and candidates, turnout could determine who occupies the White House for the next four years. And this says nothing of the dozen or so states that have passed new tough voter ID laws that will likely disproportionately affect minority and young voters. This could have the adverse affect of depressing minority turnout even further while proponents of these laws argue it is necessary to protect the integrity of elections. Acorn anybody?