EXCLUSIVE Black Women Could Swing November’s Vote
With the midterm election fast approaching, African American women are emerging as crucial to success for Democrats according to voting analysts and the Democratic National Committee. In 20 House races, mostly in southern states, African American women could be the deciding factor.
Analyst Page Gardner, founder of Women’s Voices, Women Vote, follows women’s voter enthusiasm. Her review reveals a recent increase in interest among unmarried and minority women. And small blocs of voters can be decisive. As Gardner recalls, in the last midterm election, there were 15 House races that were decided by only about 2000 votes. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released an October 14 report by David Bositis, a longtime political analyst, which confirms African American voters could tip many of the most competitive races. Hence, voter turnout among African American women is the key for Democrats success.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine met with a group of mostly female, influential African American bloggers to stress the point of getting the 5 million first time African American voters from 2008, most of whom were women, back out again in 2010. Efforts are also aimed at longtime, reliable African American women voters. The DNC has spent $3 million specifically to court the African American vote—unprecedented for a midterm election. Since June, the DNC has focused on grass roots activities, taking its message to African American communities by talking in beauty salons, door knocking, phone calling, mailing, texting, contacting clergy—and reinforcing the effort with radio, print and online ads.
Getting out the African American women’s vote will not be an easy task. Approval among African Americans for President Obama still soars above 90 percent compared to 47 percent overall. And crowds rally enthusiastically to see him, as witnessed in recent rallies in Philadelphia and Bowie, Maryland. Yet, until recently, there has not been much enthusiasm in the African American community for the midterm election.
The tide is slowly turning. The DNC and Democratic candidates are educating the African American electorate that voting in the midterm is the same as standing in support of President Obama. And the president is taking his case directly to his main base of African American women, telling crowds, “don’t make me look bad.” African American women are getting the point. At rallies, President Obama is now seeing their signs saying, “we’ve got your back.” Among African American women, there is still a strong sense of family pride with President Obama.
Historically, there is precedent for African American women making a significant change in the outcome of a midterm election. In the 1998 midterm race, where Republicans sought to impeach President Bill Clinton, African American women turned out in significant numbers. And President Obama’s favorable rating among African American women is even higher in some competitive states than was President Clinton’s. This year, the attacks on President Obama by the Tea Partiers and Republicans could backfire, bringing out more African American women to defend their own.
Yet, African Americans have a something of a bi-polar mentality when it comes to President Obama. Often African Americans are euphoric in their support for President Obama but at other times depressed at his handling of issues affecting them. No one can be sure which side will show up for the midterms.
Despite high approval ratings for the President, a harsh reality faces African Americans. While the nation’s unemployment stands at 9.6 percent, unemployment for African Americans is over 16 percent. Foreclosure rates remain higher in the African American community: Prince George’s County, Maryland, one of the most affluent African American communities in the nation, has the highest foreclosure rate in the state. Many African American women feel the President has not done enough for them. Voters such as Velma Hart—who asked at a recent town meeting, Is this our new reality?”—are not sure that he has had their back. African Americans also express disappointment with the President’s handling of racial issues such as the Professor Henry “Skip” Gates incident and the Shirley Sherrod debacle. Many African American women do not feel engaged in the process.
There are three things African American women must do. They must demand that Democrats continue to engage them in the process even after the polls close on November 2. They must continue to push Democrats for needed reforms in the African American community. But first they must vote on November 2. The euphoric side of African American women must show up that day.
Debbie Hines, Esq. is an attorney who also blogs for the Huffington Post and Women’s Media Center. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington Univesity Law School and a BA from University of PA. She is based in Washington, DC.