Much was written over the last two years, including by me, about the Republican party’s attempts all across the country to suppress the votes of poor and minority voters and make it more difficult for them to get to the polls. But a new report from Pew concludes that black voters, in particular, voted in unprecedented numbers anyway:
Blacks voted at a higher rate this year than other minority groups and for the first time in history may also have voted at a higher rate than whites, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data, election day exit poll data and vote totals from selected cities and counties.
Unlike other minority groups whose increasing electoral muscle has been driven mainly by population growth, blacks’ rising share of the vote in the past four presidential elections has been the result of rising turnout rates.
These participation milestones are notable not just in light of the long history of black disenfranchisement, but also in light of recently-enacted state voter identification laws that some critics contended would suppress turnout disproportionately among blacks and other minority groups.
Josh Marshall argues that the GOP’s voter suppression efforts helped drive that turnout:
If you know the history of disenfranchisement in the African-American community, this is a pretty amazing milestone. I continue to think — and I’m not alone in this — that Republican sowed the wind with voter suppression tactics and reaped the whirlwind. Far from taking the edge off African-American turnout, which was the intent, it mobilized these voters to historic levels.
While I’d like to believe that’s true, I’m not sure it is and I don’t think this Pew report provides evidence for that conclusion. There are several other possible explanations, any of which might explain the trend, the most obvious being that Obama’s identity as the nation’s first black president may have been the key factor driving higher black turnout. The fact that black voters made up a higher percentage of voters than they make up of the general population in 2008 as well lends credence to that explanation.
The real difference between 2008 and 2012 is that white voters turned out in lower numbers this year, which may be explained by lack of enthusiasm for Romney. Of course, it may be that both of these explanations are true; it doesn’t have to be a single factor that explains it, many different factors could be in operation. I would add a third factor, which is the unprecedented voter turnout machine put together by the Obama campaign.