When Americans go to the polls on Nov. 6, support for President Obama will remain virtually unchanged among Black voters, some experts predict.

“I think Black support for Obama would be the same,” according to David Bositis, senior analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on Black issues. He added, “In terms of turnout, 2008 was a record year. But if there’s going to be a difference this year, it’s going to be small.”

The prediction is puzzling to some given the dramatically different voting climates of 2008 and this year.

“There’s no comparison. The climate was much more uplifting in 2008,” Bositis said.

Back then, most Americans were willing to take a chance on a then-unknown candidate who sold them on his vision of hope and change. African Americans were buoyed by racial pride in the nation’s first viable Black candidate.

The Great Recession had just begun to bare its teeth and voters were only just feeling the bite. And faced with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Republican presidential candidate, who promised them more of the policies, inspired by the Republican Party, that had brought the nation’s economy to its knees, and Obama, who presented a much more coherent plan than his opponent, voters went with the latter.

The general optimism translated into unprecedented civic participation: campaign volunteerism and individual campaign donations increased, voter registration and turnout spiked, particularly among African Americans.

According to a Pew Research Center report, the Black turnout rate increased 4.9 percentage points, from 60.3 percent in 2004 to 65.3 percent—a 2 million voter increase—in 2008, nearly matching the voter turnout rate of White eligible voters (66.1 percent).

In 2012, the voting climate is a much bleaker one, particularly for Black voters.

Campaigns operate in much dirtier and rougher political waters, driven by the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens’ United, which has allowed corporations to pour millions of dollars into anti-Obama campaign advertising and lobbying.

Economically, the fortunes of the Black community have plunged. In 2004, half of Black households had a net worth less than $13,450. By 2009, that median number had fallen to $2,170 – the lowest ever recorded – according to a March 24 study by the D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute. In contrast, the median net worth of White households fell 24 percent to $97,860 during the same period.

African Americans have also led in joblessness, which reached as high as 16 percent. In November 2007—a month before the Great Recession began—8.5 percent of Blacks were unemployed. In September 2012, 13.4 percent or 2.44 million Black workers couldn’t find work—and that does not count those who were underemployed or who gave up and stopped looking.

Those dire straits have shaken the faith of many in the Black community, who saw Obama as a potential savior. Michael Jones, an undecided Black voter who questioned the president at the recent presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., exemplified those concerns.

“Mr. President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012?” Jones asked, then added, “I’m not an optimistic as I was …Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive.”

For Blacks, the path to the ballot box has also been muddied by a steady barrage of Republican-led voter suppression tactics, including restrictive voter ID laws; and plans to intimidate Blacks and other traditionally-Democratic voting blocs.

Still, African-American support for the president remains resolute—an August {NBC News/ Wall Street Journal} poll put Black support at 94-0 percent for Obama, which is on trend with his 2008 figures—and that was even after the president announced his support in May for gay marriage.

While many—particularly religious Blacks—initially were taken aback, the president’s stance
seemed to spur an uptick in Black support for gay marriage nationwide.

Bositis, the political analyst, said that’s because African-American voters still believe President Obama will advance their interests more than Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

“The president has done a lot to help African Americans, including the health care bill,” he said. “African Americans, in terms of politics, are very mature. They don’t need their hands held or their heads patted…. They know what’s best for them.”

More significantly, Bositis said, “the racism that has appeared in the Republican Party will make African Americans vote, even if they aren’t enthusiastic.”

From the president’s first day in office, he has been the object of racist attacks. From Rep. Joe Wilson (R-N.C.)’s heckling of the president, shouting “You lie” during his first State of the Union speech; to Republican leaders’ priority of making President Obama a one-term president and their stymieing of his legislative agenda to that purpose; to the entire “birther” movement and the unchecked racist elements of the Tea Party Movement among other insults big and small.

All of that could spur Black voters, experts said, to stand in solidarity with the president.

“One of the reasons African-American voters do not support Romney is that they see the Republican Party’s treatment of Obama, from the first weeks of his presidency, as an assault on a kind of racial collective dignity,” Sherrilyn A. Ifill, a University of Maryland law school professor, wrote recently. “Each of these affronts was directed at Obama – butwas experienced viscerally and personally by millions of Black voters.”

Whether that racial animus will translate into sufficient Black turnout, however, remains to be seen.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO