11/05/2012 04:44 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Why African Americans Have to Prove the Pollsters Wrong


Pollsters are betting that a smaller percentage of African Americans show up at the polls this Election Day than four years ago. We have to prove them wrong. The kind of nation that we will be for years to come is on the line.

After decades of trickle-down economic policies, we have a tax system that favors the wealthy over working people and a shrinking middle class. Among developed nations, we're the least economically mobile. This means if your parents are poor, you're likely to stay poor. We still have gross racial disparities in education, employment, health outcomes -- you name it.

These problems are decades in the making and will take more than four years and one president to fix. But we have to keep our eye on the ball to make progress. The choice we face in this election is which candidate is committed to policies that will grow the nation's middle class and promote opportunity for all.

In President Obama, we have an elected official who has embraced broader access to education, health care and job training -- all of which strengthen middle class families. In Mitt Romney, we have a candidate lacking substance who hasn't put forth a real plan to build the nation's middle class because he doesn't have one.

In the final stretch of this campaign, Mitt Romney has verbally scampered to a more moderate position and professed concern for the middle class. But the crux of his plan for America remains the same failed economic policy approach of George W. Bush's Administration (tax cuts for the rich and sort everything else out later), which pushed our country into a deep recession that further weakened the already fragile middle class and wiped out decades of economic gains for black families.

Worse, he has embraced his running mate Paul Ryan's budget proposal, which essentially is a how-to guide on concentrating wealth at the top and disassembling education, healthcare, Social Security and other programs for working people.

We all know the old adage that says when America sneezes, the black community gets a cold. Well, Mitt Romney's regressive plan will have all working people laid up with a cold and the African American community out with the flu. This is precisely why African Americans must make our voices heard and demonstrate we are a constituency that matters. President Obama's policies have put the nation on the road to recovery. But the job is not yet done. We cannot afford to sit out this election.

We must not only be registered voters, we must be likely voters. Right now, pollsters are betting African Americans will make up 1 percent less of the electorate than we did in 2008 when our community turned out in record numbers. History has taught us that a single percentage can be decisive. In 2000, when voter turnout was a record low 55 percent, George W. Bush won Florida by 527 votes, a margin of .01 percent. In 2004, only 60 percent of eligible African Americans voted compared to 65 percent in 2008. In that race, George Bush won by about 3 million votes. A surge in voting among African Americans and other core Democratic constituencies could have tipped both presidential races.

If this election is truly as tight as some pollsters estimate, a 1 percent difference in black voter turnout, especially in key swing states, will make the difference. African Americans should know this. The right wing surely does. It's why 33 Republican-led legislatures passed restrictive voter identification laws since 2008, including limiting early voting days and attempting to allow weekend voting only for historically Republican constituencies. These restrictions more adversely affect communities of color and low-income communities.

This coordinated effort to suppress the vote is a transparent attempt to drown out the voices of communities that object to the 1 percent agenda embodied by Mitt Romney and his allies.

The African American community and all working people need a president who understands that growing income inequality is detrimental to the nation and that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules should be able to get ahead. This is a core American value. It's what President Obama stands for; it's what our community believes. And it is why the African American community must prove the pollsters wrong and show up on Election Day.