I’ve seen this comment over and over again on the Internet and other sources: “black people voted for Obama for the sole reason that he’s black.” But that thinking doesn’t stand-up to the evidence.
Consider the black vote for these white candidates for president, as noted in a report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies:
• Lyndon Johnson, 1964: 94% of the African American vote
• Al Gore, 2000: 90%
• John Kerry, 2008: 88%
As these numbers indicate, African Americans have been voting for white Democratic presidential contenders at an 88-90% rate for decades. So a large black vote for Obama was not unprecedented.
Obama did get a very very high percentage of the black vote – 95%, according to exit polls – but this was to be expected no matter which Democrat was running. Current president George Bush is extremely unpopular with African Americans, due to such issues as the handling of the Katrina disaster, and the very bad economic environment for blacks.
That probably caused the Republicans to lose the small sliver of black support they’ve received in the past 40-50 years.
So again, any Democrat running for president – black, white, purple, green – was going to benefit from a huge share of the black vote.
Having said that, there’s no doubt that having an African American to vote for president, after years of supporting white Democrat contenders, generated an overwhelming level of enthusiasm in the black community. Obama’s candidacy and campaign led to the registration of thousands of black voters, and probably a record black turnout. According to exit polls, blacks constituted 13 percent of the electorate, a 2 percentage-point gain over 2004, and the actual increase may be more than that.
If black voters had been equally enthused for Gore in 2000 or Kerry in 2004, the results for those elections may have been quite different.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the white vote for this election.