Last year, Democrats sailed to their current majority of over 70 seats in the House, thanks to the coattails of Barack Obama, especially among African-American voters who turned out in record numbers. In 2010, without Obama on the top of the ticket and with Democrats increasingly isolated on their agenda, that majority may disappear. Democratic strategists worry about record low turnouts among black voters and what that might mean for the midterms next year:
Alarms are being rung about just how many African-Americans will vote without President Barack Obama on the ballot, and the New Jersey and Virginia governors’ races in three weeks will provide the first major test since the 2008 election.
A recent Washington Post survey estimated the black turnout in Virginia’s governor’s race at 12 percent, which would be about a 40 percent drop from last year’s general election. Other polling has shown both its and New Jersey’s black population unmoved about the off-year election.
The question at this point isn’t so much whether black voters will turn out at 2008 levels, but how big the drop will be — and then, whether it carries into the 2010 midterms.
Tom Jensen, a spokesman for the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, has been among the most outspoken. He said the high number of Democrats with districts that are significantly black means such a turnout shift could be disastrous for Democrats.
“If what looks like is going to happen in Virginia plays out on a national level, I do think Democrats will lose the House,” Jensen said.
Jensen says that voters who went with Democrats in 2008 haven’t switched sides but become complacent. That doesn’t match with the polling data from every major national pollster — and I mean every one — showing a flight of independents from the Democrats. Jensen also ignores the recent Gallup poll of 5,000 adults that shows party identification the closest in four years, which means that some former Democrats have left the fold. Clearly, Democrats have lost electoral ground overall, not just in enthusiasm in the African-American community.
In that group, the Republicans are not likely to have made great inroads yet. Despite the new “What Up” blog at GOP.com, the GOP has not put out much effort in talking sense to black voters and explaining conservative principles in the context of their lives. They should be focused on effective outreach, not slang-titled blogs that sound more patronizing than welcoming.
However, midterms tend to get lower turnout numbers as a matter of course. The Democrats won back the House and the Senate with a turnout of just 47% overall in 2006. The black vote turned out significantly lower at 41.2%, and Hispanics even lower at 32.3%. All of these were improvements over 2002, but only incremental increases.
If the Democrats lose the House, it will be much more attributable to their radical policy agenda in 2009-10 than a return to normal midterm turnout levels. This sounds like either an excuse or a little bit of scaremongering to get organizers enthused for the 2010 campaign.