With Obama Gone, Black Voting Drop-off Is a Real Problem for Democrats

With Obama Gone, Black Voting Drop-off Is a Real Problem for Democrats

by November 28, 2017

When Democrats look back at the 2016 elections, they have a tendency to think of the results as coming out of nowhere (if not from a Russian hack). But one big contributor to their losses was something many feared would happen: a drop-off in African-American turnout once Barack Obama was no longer heading the ticket.

African-Americans did not show up to vote in 2016 as they did in the previous two presidential elections with Obama on the ballot. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As Ron Brownstein observes after looking at now-available census- and voter-file-based evidence — which is more accurate than the initial exit polls — African-American turnout took a big hit in 2016:

In 2012, African Americans holding at least a four-year college degree voted at a slightly higher rate than whites with advanced education, and African Americans without degrees turned out at notably higher rates than blue-collar whites. But in 2016, turnout in both categories dropped so sharply that it fell below the levels of college-educated and working-class whites…. In 2016, turnout sagged to about 73 percent among college-educated African Americans (down from nearly 80 percent in 2012) and to about 56 percent among those without degrees (down from over 63 percent in 2016). Overall, the Census data showed turnout among eligible African Americans dropped fully 7 percentage points from 2012 to 2016, the biggest drop over a single election for the group since at least 1980. In the battlegrounds that tipped the election to Trump, state-level Census data show black turnout plummeting in Wisconsin; skidding in North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio; and declining more modestly in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The big question is whether this drop-off in African-American voting is the “new normal” — at least until such time, if ever, that a figure as magnetic as Barack Obama is heading up a party ticket. Or was it a temporary phenomenon attributable in part to Hillary Clinton’s alleged problems in connecting to voters?

Writing at FiveThirtyEight, conservative analyst Patrick Ruffini offers some evidence that the black voter drop-off could be with us for a while, as shown by turnout patterns in the very hot special election in Georgia’s sixth district:

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