A demographer from one of America’s leading think-tanks confirmed what many political scientists and activists believed: the Black voter turnout in 2016 was lower than in 2012 and helped Donald J. Trump to electoral success.
Blacks in line to vote in the 2016 election. (AFRO File Photo)
On May 18, the Brookings Institute, based on Washington, D.C., released a study “Census Shows Pervasive Decline in 2016 Minority Voter Turnout” by William H. Frey, senior fellow with the institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program and one of the nation’s leading demographers. The study said that while Blacks played a key role in the 2008 and 2012 presidential election, there was a downturn in 2016 and Doug Sloan, a District political analyst said he knows why.
“Barack Obama wasn’t on the ballot,” Sloan told the AFRO.
Frey’s study largely confirms what Sloan said. Using data from the Current Population Survey’s November 2016 Voting and Registration Supplement, Frey said Black turnout was lower nationally and in key swing states. He notes that while there was a decline in overall voter turnout since 2012, which posted 61.8 percent to 2016’s 61.4 percent, among Blacks the drop was more pronounced. Exit polling at the time of the election put the percentage of Blacks who voted for Clinton at almost 90 percent.
Frey reports a 7.1 percent decline in voter turnout since 2012 and at 59.6 percent, it was the lowest voter turnout rate since 2000. He said 2012 was a banner year for Blacks electorally because it was the first time since records were kept that Black voters eclipsed Whites in terms of percentages. In 2016, Frey noted, Black voter turnout was six points behind Whites.
In the crucial swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin that have strong Black populations, Frey reports that Black turnout was either reversed or eliminated in 2016. The Black voter decline also took place in Florida and Michigan, but Frey said those states had a notable increase in White voters.
Republican President Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in those states and won the presidency based solely on votes of the Electoral College. Clinton won the national popular vote by nearly three million ballots that were cast.
At the end of the study, Frey briefly mentioned voter suppression as a possible factor in the decline of Black voter turnout but didn’t elaborate because his field is demography, not political science. However, John Bullock, a political scientist in Baltimore, told the AFRO he understands why Blacks didn’t vote as much as a bloc in last year’s election.
“Hillary Clinton isn’t Barack Obama,” Bullock, who represents District 9 on the Baltimore City Council, told the AFRO. “Obama’s election and re-election were of a historic nature. When Clinton was on the ballot, Blacks didn’t feel as compelled to vote.”
Bullock said the presidential run of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was also a factor. “Many young Blacks were inspired by Bernie Sanders and his ideas,” he said. “When he lost, they weren’t as enthusiastic about Clinton and many of them were dissatisfied with her as the Democratic nominee.”
Bullock said that voter suppression tactics designed to keep Blacks from voting was a factor, too. “Many of the swing states that Trump won had their early voting changed, strict voter identification requirements, and misinformation on where polling places were located,” he said.
Sloan, who serves as the District’s NAACP chapter’s political action committee chairman, said the Clinton campaign could be blamed for the Black voter decline, too. “Clinton couldn’t duplicate the Obama turnout and she even lost among White women,” Sloan said, referring to the noted statistic indicating 53 percent of White women supported Trump. “This was also the first presidential election since the Shelby vs. Holder Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Obama was a driving force for college-aged voters and women, but Clinton couldn’t get them out to the polls.”