Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Black voters look beyond Obama

Recently my wife and I were eating an Atlanta-area fast food restaurant when my wife struck up a conversation with a black lady sitting next to us. As the conversation turned to politics, I braced myself, assuming the woman to be an Obama supporter. However, as she spoke, my admittedly stereotypical view was shattered.

The woman, who I’ll call Julia, was very disenchanted with current state of the economy. She told us how she was a teacher with advanced degrees in mathematics. Because of cutbacks in the school systems, she was unable to find a suitable job and was working as a preschool teacher for small children, a job that she clearly disliked.

Economic data tells us that there are likely many more Julias out there. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report for August, the national unemployment rate remained steady at 8.3 percent. The unemployment rate for blacks was significantly higher at 14.1 percent. According to historical data from the Labor Center at UC Berkeley , black unemployment has chronically been significantly higher than the nation as a whole or other ethnic groups.

The Center for Responsible Lending found that black homeowners were disproportionately affected by the foreclosure crisis. Black and Latino homeowners were more likely to be at risk of foreclosure than other whites. Among recent borrowers, blacks and Hispanics were almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to lose their homes.

Additionally, President Obama disappointed many black leaders with his declaration of support for same-sex marriage several months ago. According to a Pew Poll, only 36 percent of black voters approve of same-sex marriage. The Coalition of African-American Pastors, a nonpartisan group, recently launched an online petition drive supporting traditional marriage.

“The hijacking of the civil rights movement by homosexuals, bisexuals and gender-confused people must and will stop,” Rev. William Owens, the group’s founder, said in a joint press release. “We will stand in our pulpits, stand in the streets, stand in the chambers of policymaking and stand at the ballot box for those who are for God’s design of marriage and family.”

Some black voters might also be disappointed with the president’s snub of the NAACP at this year’s convention. Mitt Romney addressed the conventioneers in a speech that drew both boos and cheers. President Obama, however, did not attend the convention, appearing only in a brief video message. Vice President Joe Biden did speak at the convention.

Black voters still overwhelmingly approve of President Obama’s job performance. Gallup recently polled 85 percent support for the president among blacks. Nevertheless, even though Obama’s support among blacks is still significant, it marks a large drop since 2008 when the Obama won 95 percent of the black vote according to CNN exit polls. A 10 percent decline could make the difference in swing states, especially those with large populations of black voters.

In Georgia, the loss of black support has been even more dramatic. CNN reports that 98 percent of Georgia’s black voters cast their ballot for Obama in 2008. A July poll from Insider Advantage shows the president with only 76 percent of the black vote. Tellingly, only six percent favored Romney while almost 18 percent remained undecided.

In one of the most recent state polls, an August 12 Survey USA poll of 585 likely voters in Missouri, 85 percent of black voters indicated that they will vote for President Obama. According to CNN, Obama won 93 percent of black voters in Missouri in 2008. At eight percent, Mitt Romney’s share of black voters was almost identical to John McCain’s seven percent. The remaining seven percent of black voters are undecided.

In the Missouri poll, Romney wins 45 percent of all voters to Barack Obama’s 44 percent. Five percent are undecided. This illustrates how even a small movement of black voters away from the president can cause a battleground state to swing toward Romney. This is true even if they simply stay away from the polls and don’t vote for either candidate.

Like many other black voters, Julia, while disenchanted with Barack Obama, is not completely sold on Mitt Romney. However, for what may be the first time in many years, large numbers of black voters are open to an appeal from Republican candidates. President Obama’s economic policies have not helped black voters find jobs or keep their homes. If Republicans continue to reach out to minorities and point to the growing number of black Republican candidates and elected officials such as Allen West and Artur Davis, the minority flight from the Democratic Party may increase.

Originally published on Examiner.com


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