Obama chasing 'Black vote' ahead of crucial elections

With President Obama’s approval ratings sliding and Republicans looking to capitalise on his weaknesses, polls and pundits are saying the Black vote - so crucial to Obama's victory in 2008 - may not turn out to support Democrats.


With election day just around the corner, US President Barack Obama and Democratic Party candidates have been fishing for votes to stave off widespread predictions that Republicans will dominate this year’s midterm legislative elections. To this end, they’ve turned their sights on Obama’s support base, one that played a significant role in electing Obama to the presidency in 2008: the Black vote.

However, pollsters believe that a large portion of Black voters might sit out the midterm elections, which could spell danger for the Democratic Party. Its majority in the lower-house of Congress is vital to advancing Obama’s political agenda.

‘Not as much enthusiasm’

Midterm elections have never been at the top of many Americans’ “to do” lists, with voter turnout reportedly at around 45 percent, according to statistics provided by the Pew Research Centre.

This year, that may be especially true of the black community. Obama’s candidacy in 2008 inspired record numbers of black voters to head to the polls, and a recent Gallup poll revealed that the president still enjoys 91 percent approval among African-Americans. Overall, only 8 percent of black voters are expected to head to the polls November 2, another Gallup poll revealed.

Dr. Charles P. Henry, professor of African American studies at UC Berkeley explains that two factors may also add to African-Americans’ reluctance to vote this year: a selection of candidates that do not inspire them and Obama’s hands-off approach to racial issues.

“When [they] had a chance to vote for a black candidate, [black voters] have turned out more than white [voters]”, said Henry. But high-profile black Democratic candidates are few and far between in this year’s midterms.

“In terms of black dissatisfaction with Obama, I think it’s real” says Sonya Childress, 38, a mixed-race American voter who works for a film production company. “I think there’s a sense that Obama hasn’t done enough when he’s had the opportunity,” she states.

Childress said economic policy was the chief concern among Black voters, but also cited instances when Obama failed to show support for black members of his government. In July, his administration hastily asked for the resignation of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod over allegedly racist remarks, only to apologise later and offer to reinstate her. Furthermore, Environmental adviser Van Jones resigned after coming under fire for disparaging Republicans and the Bush administration.

The race card

In an effort to inspire the same excitement that drove so many black voters to the polls in 2008, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has poured three million dollars into on African American outreach for this election, 10 times more than in 2006.

In order to get black voters back to the polling stations, Obama has recently been headlining rallies in places with significant black populations like Bowie, Maryland, and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, firing up crowds with speeches that echo the enthusiasm and passion of his 2008 campaign.

At the rally in Pennsylvania, Obama made an unusually strong appeal to a largely black crowd to get out and vote on November 2. In an almost sermon-like speech, he pleaded the crowd to remind Washington that, “Change doesn't come from the top -- it comes from the bottom. It doesn't come from millions of dollars of ads -- it comes because people are out there knocking on doors,” and said that Republicans were in part counting on “black folk” staying home.

Democratic strategists are hoping that an unexpectedly strong black turnout will be a November surprise that helps boost Democrats’ chances at holding on to crucial Congressional seats and governorships.

One black voter who will head to the polls to back Democrats November 2 without a second thought is Khadi King, a 29-year-old English professor in Chicago. King also happens to support President Obama, who he feels faces an uphill battle. As King put it: “He’s done the best anyone could have done given the situation".

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