Paula Poindexter, associate professor in the School of Journalism, is an expert on women and young voters, African American voters, polling and media coverage of elections. She is the co-editor of “Women, Men, and News: Divided and Disconnected in the News Media Landscape” (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc./Taylor and Francis 2008) and co-author with Maxwell McCombs of the textbook “Research in Mass Communication: A Practical Guide (Bedford/St. Martin’s 2000).”
Has the pride in the historic election of the first African American president of the United States given way to voters’ remorse? Were African Americans shaking their collective heads in agreement with an African American woman who recently said to President Barack Obama during a CBNC-sponsored town hall meeting that she was “exhausted” defending him and the “mantle of change”? A chief financial officer and veteran, Velma Hart said to the 44th president: “I’m deeply disappointed.”
Although President Obama is not on the ballot in 2010, his record is, and it is that two-year record that has led to at least one dissatisfied African American voter. Making history can feel good for only so long. A self-described member of the middle class with two children in private school, Hart expressed concern that her family’s middle class lifestyle was in jeopardy. If there are more African Americans like Velma Hart, what will that mean for the 2010 mid-term election?
By the president’s own admission, he needs African Americans to vote like they did in 2008. In that historic election, a record 64.7 percent of eligible blacks voted, according to a recent U.S. Census report. Whites were slightly behind blacks with 64.4 percent voting in the election. A little less than half (49.9 percent) of Hispanics voted in 2008; among eligible Asians, 47.6 percent voted. The record turnout of African Americans no doubt contributed to Barack Obama’s successful presidential bid but two years into his presidency, will African Americans show up in 2010?
African Americans like all Americans don’t turn out at mid-term at the same rate as presidential elections. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, 26 percent fewer voters turn out at mid-term. For African Americans, the decline is steeper. Typically there is a one-third drop, but that was before an African American took up residence at Pennsylvania Avenue. But if African Americans are experiencing voters’ remorse now that the euphoria of 2008 is in the past, the drop-off could just as easily exceed one-third.
One of the reasons for voters’ remorse may be the slow economic recovery which has hit the black community particularly hard. In fact, unemployment among African Americans is a staggering 16.1 percent, according to Department of Labor statistics. African Americans are not just losing their jobs. They are losing their homes, and achieving the American dream for some appears to be out of reach.
And some African Americans have felt ignored by the White House, according to an interview on NPR’s Tell Me More. Despite perceived neglect over the past two years, during the past two weeks, “there’s been a real all-out effort to talk to black media,” according to the managing editor of theroot.com.
What African Americans do in 2010 will likely determine what happens during the remaining two years of President Obama’s first term. And whether African Americans show up at mid-term may depend on what Barack Obama has done for them. Some African Americans feel disappointed and, perhaps, even betrayed. Others feel he hasn’t done enough. But what happens at mid-term may not be in the hands of those with voters’ remorse but African Americans who are standing by their president with high job approval ratings and no regrets. According to a recent Gallup Poll, they represent 91 percent of African Americans, and if they show up in 2010, they will confirm what headlines like the following are saying: “Black Vote Crucial for Dems in Mid-Term Elections.”
More election posts from Paula Poindexter:
- Oct. 19: Why young voters’ participation matters at mid-term
- Oct. 12: With 24/7 news, are voters more informed?
- Oct. 5: Don’t believe everything the polls say
Visit the mid-term elections blog series home page for a complete lineup of faculty experts’ analyses.