Is Obama losing African American voters?

Oct 18, 2011

President Barack Obama had strong support from African American voters in the 2008 presidential election, but is that support still there?

Chat with Paul Butler as he discusses whether or not President Obama can hold onto African American voters in the 2012 election. Ask questions and weigh in with your thoughts now.

Can Obama hold on to African American voters in 2012?
Photo Gallery: Obama gears up for 2012 campaign

Hi, everyone.  I'm here.  What do you think about the President and black voters?

Joyner's request that blacks "not even deal with the facts right now," and his cry that "as black people we should do it [support Obama] because he's a black man" disgust me. His call for "racial loyalty" borders on a call for "racist loyalty." If a Mormon had called for supporting Romney, despite the "facts right now," because "he's a white man," the press would be aghast, and people would be calling for Romney to renounce that hatred. Joyner should be held to no less a standard.

There seems to be something other than racial loyalty going on because Joyner isn't making the same request about Herman Cain.  Aren't African-Americans allowed to be especially proud of the first African-American president?

Will the pain of African American's personal experiences during this current recession cause them to not vote or vote against their interest?

One rarely hears complaints that African-Americans vote against their interest.  That critique is more typically made of working-class white voters when they vote for conservative Republicans.

Hasn't the Democrat polled like 92% of the Af-Am vote in every election for half a century? Maybe if he continues to poll badly in general, his support might drop to 88% of Af-Ams; which means we're talking George McGovern territory in the overall election.

The Democrat party's concern seems to be more focused on a depressed African-American turnout, rather than that the blacks who do show up will vote for the Republican.  The campaign seems to believe it needs the same kind of record level turnout by "non-traditional" voters that happened in 2008.

Do you ever see the majority of African American votes going to a Republican candidate in the future?

I don't see such a possibility in the near future.  The Republicans haven't done a good job on reaching out to African-Americans, even on areas like gay marriage or immigration where some sectors of the black community might favor conservative positions.  That said, a Romney/Cain ticket in 2012 might attract more black voters than usual.  It's an interesting prospect...

How has the African American community's perception of Obama changed since 2008?

Many African-Americans were "hopeful" in that way that many progressives were.  To the extent that there was hope for race-based interventions on issues like unemployment, or even a sustained dialogue about race, those expectations have not been met.  Perhaps those hopes were unrealistic in the first place.

The point is that this kind of behavior is disgraceful and in direct opposition to everything for which Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights activists fought. They worked to progress racial equality and the idea that a person should be judged by his character and not the color of his skin. Any group (whether black or white) that supports racial favoritism should be ashamed of itself. - Post commenter hansman

It's a myth that Martin Luther King favored color-blind public policy.   When there have been centuries of race-based discrimination, it's impractical to think that this reality can be ignored in fashioning remedies.  This is the idea behind the Voting Rights Act, among other race-based interventions that have worked.

Tom Joyner has pleaded with his 8 million listeners to get in line behind the first black president. Then he said this "I’m not afraid or ashamed to say that as black people, we should do it because he’s a black man.” 
This is shameful and should be repugnant to anyone who wants what is best for America. 
CBC talking about the high unemployment rate among blacks. 
"If (former President) Bill Clinton had been in the White House and had failed to addres
s this problem, we probably would be marching on the White House," Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo. 
Now tell me how this would be receive by a man who once had a dream? 
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." 
Are they doing what is best for America, or what is best for the democratic party? - Post commenter tateofpa

Rep. Cleaver's comments about some members of the CBC declining to criticize President Obama, even when they would have criticized another president, were startling mainly for their frankness.  I think the context in which he spoke was that President Obama is criticized when other presidents would not be, and Cleaver doesn't want to pile on.  I just don't know how realistic it is to think that, in this day and age, the CBC can "privately" express its concerns, which is what Rep. Cleaver suggested.

Is Obama losing African American support?

I think that some African-Americans are less enthusiastic.  There were very high expectations.  In some ways, the President seems to have taken black support for granted, and politically this has not been an effective strategy.  President Obama is in a difficult position, however, because he may believe that any race based interventions would lose him support among white voters.  While a majority of whites did not support him in 2008, he does need to maintain the white voters he won then, if he is to be re-elected.  Race remains a confounding issue in American politics - even after the election of the first black president!

In This Chat
Paul Butler
Paul Butler is associate dean and the Carville Dickinson Benson Research Professor of Law at George Washington University and the author of “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice.” Professor Butler teaches in the areas of criminal law, civil rights, and jurisprudence. His scholarship has been published in the Yale Law Journal, Harvard Law Review, Stanford Law Review, and UCLA Law Review, among other places.He has written chapters in several books, written a column for the Legal Times, and published numerous op-ed articles, including in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Dallas Morning News. He lectures regularly for the ABA and the NAACP, and at colleges, law schools, and community organizations throughout the U.S.
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