Republicans have actively antagonized African-Americans throughout the 2012 campaign, and they paid a hefty price for their divisive politics on election night. According to exit polls, black voters turned out in record numbers for President Barack Obama, playing a crucial role in re-electing America’s first black president.
African-Americans comprised 13 percent of the electorate in 2012, up from 11 percent in 2008. President Obama dominated this demographic, winning 93 percent of black voters nationally, while Mitt Romney won only 6 percent.
That trend was magnified in the swing states. In Ohio, black voters were 15 percent of the electorate — up from 11 percent in 2008 — and Obama won 96 percent of them. In Wisconsin, 7 percent of voters were black — up from 5 percent in 2008 — and Obama won 94 percent. In Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the percentage of black voters matched 2008 (despite an increased number of white and Latino voters,) and Obama ran up huge margins of 95 percent, 93 percent, and 93 percent respectively.
Overall, it’s not a stretch to declare that black voters were the key to Obama’s success. As Charles Blow put it in The New York Times, “Without the Democratic black vote joining with that of liberal whites and Hispanics… Obama would likely have lost half the states that he won.”
Obama’s overwhelming support among the black community is not hard to figure out. While African-Americans are historically the Democratic party’s most reliable constituency — and many in the community feel a special connection to the bi-racial Obama — the Republican party surely drove any undecideds into the Democratic camp by actively antagonizing the black community throughout the campaign.
From Mitt Romney’s widely derided, antagonistic speech to the NAACP, to his reliance on bigoted surrogates like John Sununu and Donald Trump, to his flagrantly false ad campaign invoking well-known dog whistles about welfare reform, to the Republican party’s transparent attempts to discourage minorities from voting through “voter ID” laws, the GOP was disturbingly comfortable with using racial politics to build an elderly, white coalition in 2012.
The voter suppression laws were especially egregious. The laws were clearly targeted at minority voters, a fact that some Republicans didn’t even try to hide. Former Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer, for example, admitted under oath that “political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting,” and added that party officials discussed how “minority outreach programs were not fit for the Republican Party.”
Ironically, scare tactics such as the menacing billboards that went up in black neighborhoods in Cleveland ultimately backfired, increasing black voters’ motivation to get to the polls. As Latino Decisions co-founder Matt Barreto told The Nation‘s Ari Berman, “There were huge organizing efforts in the black, Hispanic and Asian community, more than there would’ve been, as a direct result of the voter suppression efforts.”
Although the Republican Party has acknowledged that it must do more to attract Latino voters — promising to re-examine its hardline stance on immigration reform, among other gestures — for some reason it has so far made no such overtures to the black community. Instead, the right seems to be throwing its hands up and deciding that — as Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly put it on election night — “it’s not a traditional America anymore” because 50 percent of voters “want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.”
The Republican Party is making a political mistake by writing off the black community. While the one-time party of Lincoln will not win a significant number of black voters in the near future, even a small improvement could have a huge impact. In 2004, George W. Bush won 13 percent of black voters in Florida, and 16 percent in Ohio and Pennsylvania. If Romney had matched those percentages in 2012, he would be the president-elect right now.
As long as the GOP’s outreach to black voters continues to boil down to lectures on how paychecks are better than food stamps, however, the party’s appeal will be confined to older, white voters — a group that can no longer deliver electoral victory on its own, as Romney has learned the hard way.
AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File