Obama’s Black Voters Staying Home This Time Around

Pollsters and pundits are making a lot of dubious, unsupported claims about early voting patterns this year, and anything they say about the direction of the election should be taken with an enormous grain of salt. In a year as fraught with unprecedented politics as this one, you can’t make a conclusive determination about anything based on a simple count of Republicans and Democrats. 2016 is the year party politics took a backseat to other concerns.

That said, there are some truths that can’t be denied. Among them: Hillary Clinton can’t win the presidency without a strong showing among African-Americans. And while she’s certainly going to trounce Donald Trump with black voters, percentages don’t matter as much as total turnout. If the black voters who pushed Obama over the top stay home this year, her path to 270 is going to be very rocky.

Despite enjoying enthusiastic support from both the president and the first lady, though, Hillary appears to be facing that very problem. Early voting numbers in several key states show the same pattern: Black voters are just not coming out to support her in Obama-esque numbers. In North Carolina, black turnout has dropped 16% from 2012. In Florida, it’s down 10%.

“If the Clinton campaign doesn’t ramp it up, Florida will be in doubt,” political science professor Daniel Smith told the New York Times. Smith, who teaches at the University of Florida, said that early voting in Miami-Dade showed big changes from 2012:

He found that of those who have cast ballots this year, 22 percent were black, 40 percent were white and 31 percent were Hispanic. In 2012, the breakdown was 36 percent black, 35 percent white and 23 percent Hispanic.

Those numbers appear to demonstrate that Hillary’s problem isn’t limited to her inability to reproduce Obama’s popularity within the black electorate. She’s lagging badly when it comes to overall enthusiasm, while Trump – despite all his controversial baggage – has retained more of his primary-era excitement than the media would like to admit.

No one expected Hillary Clinton, a 69-year-old white woman, to draw black voters to the polls the way the nation’s first black major-party candidate did. But for a party that depends almost exclusively on its dominance with minorities, these numbers don’t look good. Maybe a Biden or a Bernie could have done better.

Or maybe Trump’s message to African-Americans has resonated a little more powerfully than we’ve been led to believe.

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