The election of the first black U.S. president in 2008 brought unparalleled attention to black voters. Along with the intense scrutiny blacks found themselves under after Barack Obama’s historic win came stereotypes about the African-American electorate. Do blacks support Obama simply because he’s black, journalists such as Barbara Walters asked even during the 2012 presidential campaign. Why did blacks usher in a black president but largely support a ballot measure in California that struck down same-sex marriage? Which subsets of the black community led the charge to the polls? This profile of African-American voters not only challenges questions that have been raised about the black electorate but also spells out what distinguishes this voting bloc from other groups.
Blacks Alone Didn’t Give Obama Victory in 2008
There’s a wide perception that President Obama has blacks to thank for winning the 2008 election. While an overwhelming majority of blacks did back Obama then, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow found that “even if every black person in America had stayed home on Election Day, Obama would still have won the presidency.” How is that possible? Because Obama had enough support from white and Latino voters to win decisively against John McCain. In 2012, Obama won reelection thanks to a mix of black, Latino, liberal white and Asian-American voters. Blow points out that Asian Americans outnumbered black voters in West Coast states such as California, Washington and Oregon in 2012.
Ninety Percent of Black Voters Also Backed Al Gore
It’s no secret that most black voters supported Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Ninety-five percent of blacks supported Obama in 2008 and 93 percent did in 2012. The high turnout of black voters in favor of Obama has led to accusations that African Americans only supported the president because of racial loyalty. However, large numbers of blacks have also backed white presidential candidates such as Al Gore and John Kerry. Ninety percent of blacks supported Gore in 2000, and 88 percent of blacks supported Kerry in 2004. These figures show that blacks are simply much more likely to support Democratic presidential candidates, regardless of race. For example, Alan Keyes—a black Republican who’s run for office several times, including in 2008 when Obama first ran—has never drawn a large African-American following. Even black Democrats who launched presidential campaigns in the 21st century, such as Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton, have not enjoyed the fierce support from blacks that Obama has. Clearly, Obama’s message struck a unique chord in the black community.
Black Voters and Gay Marriage
Black voters not only garnered immense media attention in 2008 because of Obama’s groundbreaking election. News outlets also focused on these voters because the black community in California was largely held responsible for the passage of Prop. 8, a state ban on gay marriage. News organizations reported that as many as seven out of ten blacks backed the same-sex marriage ban. Further analysis showed that in actuality only about 58 percent of blacks supported Prop. 8, a proportion that’s comparable to how other groups voted on the issue. The Pew Research Center reported that exit polls taken after the 2012 election revealed that just 41 percent of black voters opposed gay marriage.
Black Women and Young Blacks Led Community in Voting
In both 2008 and 2012, blacks made up approximately 13 percent of the U.S. electorate. With a 69 percent turnout rate in 2008 and a 60 percent turnout rate in 2012, black women led turnout in the black community. Ninety-five percent of black women backed Obama’s reelection efforts. Young black people, those between the ages of 18 and 29, also had an enormous turnout in the race. In both 2008 and 2012, young blacks made up 26 percent of the black vote. Ninety-one percent of such voters backed Obama each time.