A new Associated Press study has found that for the first time, black turnout rates surpassed that of whites in the 2012 election. While black Americans make up only 12% of eligible, they accounted for 13% of total votes cast. The study concludes that: “Overall, the findings represent a tipping point for blacks, who for much of America’s history were disenfranchised and then effectively barred from voting until passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.”
Many are suggesting that this groundbreaking black representation in the election comes not despite, but rather because of GOP efforts to increase voter restrictions leading up to the 2012 election.
The study, which also found Mitt Romney might have won the presidency had whites voted at the same rates they had in 2004, suggests that voter suppression efforts cause a massive reactionary get out to vote movement in the black community. The effect was even stronger because in many cases the voter ID laws, trimming of early voting days, and elimination of Sunday voting were struck down by the courts and so were not even in effect.
In 2012, research group Project New America conducted a study to see what was most likely to get "sporadic, less likely voters who lean Democratic" to the polls, to see what would motivate them to vote. "One of the most powerful messages across many different demographics was reminding people that their votes were important to counter the extremists who are kicking people off of voter rolls.”
Examples of what CNN contributor Roland Martin has called “Republicans' blatant attempts at voter suppression in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, Texas and other states,” include an Ohio initiative to increase early voting in Republican counties and cut it is Democratic counties. Voter fraud is often cited as a reason for initiatives like voter ID requirements, but fraud occurs at rate of .00004% of votes cast, about the odds of being struck and killed by lighting.
A huge effect, which cannot be overlooked, is the effect of having a black or minority candidate. "The 2012 turnout is a milestone for blacks and a huge potential turning point," said Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie, "What it suggests is that there is an 'Obama effect' where people were motivated to support Barack Obama. But it also means that black turnout may not always be higher, if future races aren't as salient."
Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant for Sen. Marc Rubio (Fla.) says, "It remains to be seen how successful Democrats are if you don't have Barack Obama at the top of the ticket.”
Many voter regulation initiatives, such as the one in Ohio, were struck down by the courts and Department of Justice and so were not actually in place for the 2012 elections. So although 2012 proved that efforts to restrict voting will in fact motivate the targeted groups to get out to vote in higher number than in 2008 for example, whether or not a black candidate runs could also be a determining factor. As more voting restrictions come into place before the 2014 and 2016 elections, it will be interesting to see which force has more affect on turnout, the restrictions or the motivation they cause.