Size, Turnout of African American Vote Likely to Set New Records in November 2008 Presidential Election
By Larry Jones
September 15, 2008
If participation in the 2008 presidential primaries is any indication, African Americans will turn out to vote in record numbers in the November 4 general election according to recent reports published by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (JCPES). In two separate publications released following the Democratic and Republican Conventions, JCPES reported that black participation in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries skyrocketed, increasing by approximately 115 percent over the 2004 presidential primaries. The reports attribute this historic turnout to the fact that an African American, for the first time in our nationís history, won the Democratic Partyís nomination for President of the United States.
According to the U.S. Census Bureauís Current Population Survey (CPS), there are 26.3 million voting-age African Americans in the United States. A November 2004 CPS report shows that 64.4 percent of African Americans were reported registered, and 56.3 reported that they voted in the 2004 presidential election (See Table 5). This compares to 67.9 percent reported registered and 60.3 percent reported voting for whites in 2004. If voting patterns from the presidential primaries hold true, the JCPES report estimates that African American turnout will increase by a substantial margin in the 2008 election. A conservative estimate, according to the report, would be a 15Ė20 percent increase in voter turnout in 2008 over the turnout in 2004. This would represent a national turnout for African Americans in the range of 65 to 70 percent.
While the majority of African Americans have long voted in favor of the Democratic candidate in presidential elections, starting in 1964, 94 percent of African Americans voted for the Democratic nominee (See Table 1). This was largely attributed to the partyís support of landmark civil rights and voting rights laws adopted in the mid-1960s. It is interesting to note that only 82 percent of African Americans identified with the Democratic Party in the 1964 election while eight percent identified with the Republican Party and ten percent identified themselves as independents or with other party affiliations. Since 1964, African Americans have continued to vote overwhelmingly in favor of the Democratic nominee for president. They have consistently voted between 84 percent and 90 percent in favor of the Democratic candidate except for 1992 when a strong third-party candidate got a small but substantial share of the black vote.
While African Americans comprise an important voting block in 20 states and the District of Columbia (See Table 3), the South has the largest share of the African American vote (55 percent). In six of 11 southern states, African Americans make up over 20 percent of the total electorate: Mississippi (34.2 percent), Louisiana (30.3 percent), South Carolina (28 percent), Georgia (27.5 percent), Alabama (24.7 percent) and South Carolina (20.8 percent). In 2004 African American voter registration in the South was 65.3 percent and voter turnout was 55.9 percent. By comparison, white voter registration was 66.7 percent and voter turnout was 57.6 percent.
For several decades, African Americans have not identified well with the Republican Party or supported the Republican nominee for president. This was not always the case. Most African Americans identified with the Republican Party up until the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was successful in getting Congress to pass New Deal era legislation that helped many Americans, including African Americans, with jobs and support in recovering from the nationís worst economic depression. Although African American identification began to shift from the Republican to the Democratic Party after the election of Roosevelt, party identification and support for the Republican presidential nominee remained fairly significant up to 1964. Between 1936 and 1964 African American identification with the Republican Party ranged from a low of 18 percent in the 1952 election to a high of 42 percent in the 1940 election. Since 1964, the share of African Americans identifying themselves as Republicans range from a low of three percent in the 1968 election to a high of 15 percent in the 2004 election.
In a national survey conducted by JCPES last July to determine which issues are important to African American voters in the 2008 presidential election, 42 percent said the economy is the most important problem facing the nation today; 17 percent identified rising gas and energy prices as the most important national problem; and 45.4 percent said that rising gas prices were among the top three national problems. In an earlier survey conducted in October of last year, only 15 percent identified the economy as the most important problem while rising gas prices were not mentioned. Health care and the war in Iraq received the next highest mentions as the most important problems facing the nation. Global warming was also mentioned by 15.1 percent of the respondents as one of the top three problems facing the nation.