The fond hope of the GOP is that the census revelation that for the first time in census history a higher percentage of blacks than whites turned out for the 2012 presidential election is an aberration. The aberration is, of course, President Obama. The conventional political thinking is that record numbers of African-American votes stormed the polls in 2008 and 2012 solely out of giddy enthusiasm at the thought of making history and electing and reelecting the first black president in the country's history. GOP strategists take comfort in this, and calculate that no white Democratic presidential candidate will generate the same fire, passion, and most importantly black vote numbers in 2016 and beyond that Obama did. There's some truth to this, but only some. And there's no truth that the GOP should take comfort in this.
A quick crunch of the numbers tells why. The black vote turnout did leap by nearly 2 million voters from 1996. But even at the lower range number of black voters in 1996, nearly 60 percent of eligible black voters still went to the polls. The other crucial factors are the age and gender of the voters. The trend in the numbers of black female voters over the past decade has been on the upswing. And the sharp upturn in black voters is among older black votes 45 years and older. Older voters traditionally are a more stable and reliable voting demographic, and the steadily growing number of black female voters virtually insures that the black vote will be a permanent potent factor in national elections. It was only a question of the right time and the right candidate for the numbers to surge. Obama of course fitted the bill on both counts.
The 2008 election was proof of that. The mass rush by blacks to the polls was the single biggest reason that Obama carried the traditional must-win states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, and broke the GOP presidential lock on North Carolina and Virginia. With the exception of the loss of North Carolina to GOP presidential rival Mitt Romney, 2012 was a virtual repeat of Obama's success in 2008. Yet even before that breakthrough, the seed of a Democratic presidential candidate's White House triumph was firmly planted in 1960 with the narrow win by Democratic presidential candidate John Kennedy over GOP rival Richard Nixon. A decisive factor for the mass defection of black voters to Kennedy in key states was Kennedy's call to Martin Luther King Sr. in support of a jailed Martin Luther King Jr. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson's election route of pro-states right GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater reconfirmed the make-or-break potential of black voters in national elections.
The GOP has long known that. Each time the 1965 Voting Rights Act has come up for renewal, the GOP has made loud threats to water down or delay it in Congress. And each time the GOP was thwarted by a Democratic push back, public pressure, and the fear of totally alienating black voters. Two GOP presidents, Reagan and George W. Bush, signed the Act's renewal.
But the vote stakes were too high for the GOP to throw in the towel on its obstructionism. It has two trump cards to play to try and reverse the black voter tide. One is the Supreme Court. It fervently banks that it has the five votes on the court needed to strike down the centerpiece of the Act, Section 5. This is the provision that mandates that states get "preclearance" from the Justice Department before making any changes in voting procedures.
The other GOP trump is its domination of the state legislatures in North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Ohio, and several other states. There's ongoing warfare between the GOP and the Democrats over GOP concocted remapping plans in Florida and Ohio, and other states. The plans would virtually insure a spate of redrawn GOP friendly voting districts in future presidential elections. GOP governors and state legislatures also have concocted a blizzard of voter suppression measures from hyper-restrictive ID laws to slashing voting days and hours to further damp down the Hispanic and black vote numbers. The GOP's aim is to gain even greater dominance in the House and win majority control in the Senate in 2014. The biggest prize, though, is still the White House, and the more GOP controlled districts in the states that Obama won in 2008 and again in 2012, the greater the odds are of rolling those states back into the GOP win column.
But these tactics can't reverse history. The black vote is and will remain a foundation of the Democratic Party in key states. And the increased number of black voters and their willingness to go to the polls poses a mortal threat to break the GOP's grip in the South. This can only add to the GOP's woes.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new ebook is How the NRA Terrorizes Congress -- The NRA's Subversion of the Gun Control Debate (Amazon). He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.