In Anticipation of November 2, Black Voters, Candidates and the 2010 Midterm Elections

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There has been a large amount of coverage of the Tea Party movement and the unquestioned effect they’ve had on the Republican primary elections, forcing a field of candidates whose position on issues such as health care, social programs, economic stimulus and the direction of the country is diametrically opposed to the interests of African-Americans, Latinos and minorities.
There has also been accompanying coverage of the hundreds of millions of dollars flowing from corporations, wealthy individuals and even foreign interests, into this election cycle in an attempt to derail Barack Obama’s presidency and destroy his domestic agenda.
What has not been talked about, but is now coming to the fore, is the potential of the  African-American community to grab the narrative of this election, wrenching it from the wealthy and right-wing crazies, and putting it into the hands of the white, black and brown working people who built this country.
The following analysis by the African-American-led think tank, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, gives insight into what has the heirs of the slave-controllers running so hard: the realization that the strategically-concentrated Black vote can destroy the agenda of the rich and world corporate interests to completely control the economy of the United States, and instead, keep it on the path of social responsibility.
This election represents a turning point in the country’s direction and a large Black turnout for the Democrats nationally and the Freedom Party in New York, will be a declaration that there is no going back to robber barons and social meanness.  We move forward.         David Mark Greaves

In Anticipation of November 2, Black Voters, Candidates and the 2010 Midterm Elections
David A. Bositis, Sr. Political Analyst, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

Executive Summary

There is widespread agreement that the Democrats -after major gains in 2006 and 2008 -are poised to lose a significant number of U.S. House and Senate seats in the 2010 election, largely because of high unemployment and a generally poor economy. It is also widely felt that the extent of those losses will have a major impact on the Obama Administration’s ability to pursue its goals through 2012.
The outcome is not as certain as many believe it to be. The extent of the Democrats’ losses will depend on their ability to turn out their most loyal voters, and no voting bloc will be more important to them than African-Americans. If they can mobilize a strong black turnout, the Democrats can significantly reduce their potential losses.
Much of the activity geared toward turning out voters occurs below the radar of the media, so it is difficult to know with certainty what black turnout will be in 2010. However, there are a number of elements to this calculus that should not be overlooked.
First, there are a significant number of black voters in the states and districts where many of the most competitive elections will be held. This is an important factor because greater resources and efforts are expended on competitive elections. The black population is not a nationally distributed one; rather, it is concentrated in less than half of states and in about one-quarter of the U.S. congressional districts in the country. There have been several midterm elections in the past 45 years (since the Voting Rights Act was passed) when there were few competitive elections in the states and districts where African-Americans lived.
Historically, blacks have turned out to vote at lower rates than whites, and this was especially true for midterm elections -but that doesn’t mean that African-Americans as a rule won’t turn out for midterm elections. Rather, given the geographic distribution of black voters as noted above, some of those elections with low black voter turnout simply reflected the lack of competitive elections where black voters could play an important role.
There were two midterm elections that are particularly instructive on this point. In 1986, two years after the Reverend Jesse Jackson demonstrated that a strong effort could greatly increase black participation in the electoral process, Operation Big Vote -a program to register and mobilize black voters for the midterm elections that year -resulted in a strong black turnout, and the Democrats regained a majority in the U.S. Senate. That gap between black and white turnouts in 1986 was only 3.8 percentage points nationally and only one percentage point in the Southern states. In the previous two midterms, the black-white gap was 10.1 and 6.9 percentage points nationally, and 7.6 and 4.6 percentage points in the Southern states.
Twelve years later, in 1998, black voters again turned out in strong numbers and had a major impact on the outcome of the midterm elections. That year, black voters were strategically placed relative to the competitive races, and they turned out in a strong showing of support for President Bill Clinton then tremendously popular with African Americans -who at the time was under attack from congressional Republicans, who would impeach him the month following the election. The gap between white and black turnout that year decreased nationally to 3.7 percentage points (from 10.2 percentage points in 1994), and the gap in the Southern states declined from 8.4 percentage points in 1994 to threetenths of a percentage point. Due to that strong black turnout, 50 years of history was upended when the president’s party won five additional seats in the U.S. House in the sixth year of a presidential tenure. The outcome of the 1998 midterms, predicated in significant part by black votes, led to the failure of the Republican’s attempt to remove the president from office, and eventually led to the ouster of Newt Gingrich as Speaker.
Intriguingly, there were 12 years between the two previous displays of black voting power in midterm elections, and 2010 is 12 years since the last instance. There are similarities between 2010 and the earlier elections. First, many of the most competitive elections are geographically situated where black voters are most concentrated, as was the case in 1986 and 1998.
Second, there is a president who is very popular with African-Americans and who is under attack from congressional Republicans. If anything, President Obama in 2010 is more popular with African-Americans than was President Clinton in 1998. Late in 2009, the Joint Center conducted polls of African-Americans in four competitive states and President Obama’s job approval (about 80 percent) and favorable rating (95 percent) were exceptionally high. A Joint Center survey at a comparable time before the 1998 midterms found President Clinton’s job approval at 61 percent among black voters, and favorable rating at 89 percent.
Finally, African-Americans are well-positioned to vote. The 2008 presidential election was the first in which black turnout exceeded white turnout. Further, because there are so many competitive elections this year in places where black voters could significantly affect the outcomes, there will certainly be a major effort aimed at mobilizing them to vote. Since African-Americans are overwhelmingly Democratic in their partisanship, it will be the Democrats-and of course, President Obama-who will be determined to boost black turnout. DNC Chairman Tim Kaine has said that Democrats are strongly committed to a vigorous “ground game” in this election and announced that two million dollars (much more than ever before) has been allocated by the DNC for mobilizing efforts aimed at black voters. In the states and districts where there are competitive elections, state and local Democratic parties, as well as individual campaigns will also be expending efforts and resources to mobilize black voters. President Obama’s “Organize for America” will undoubtedly be doing the same.
The Geography of 2010
There are 20 competitive U.S. House elections where black voters could potentially decide the outcome. Most of these districts are in southern states (15), and only three are held by Republicans. If the Democrats retain half of these seats, it would be difficult for the GOP to gain the 40 seats necessary to regain the majority in the U.S. House. Further, there are two GOP-held seats in districts where black voters are a substantial bloc and Democratic pickup will make the GOP’s goal of 40 more difficult to attain.
There are 14 competitive U.S. Senate races in 2010 where the black vote could have a major impact. Only four of these contests are in Southern states, and eight of the states are currently held by Democrats, while four of the Republican-held seats are open-seat contests. As with the U.S. House contests identified above, if the Democrats win half of these seats, they most assuredly will maintain majority control in the U.S. Senate.