A convergence of studies and numerous polls on the eve of upcoming congressional midterms are not only predicting substantially lower turnout rates for African-American voters across the board, but also low participation rates in critical Senate battleground states like Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana and elsewhere.
With a number of gubernatorial races at stake, as well, states like Maryland and Illinois that were once viewed as easy pick-ups for Democrats are now becoming much tighter as candidates close out the final weeks.
The Black vote, in turn, is dropping off where it is needed most by Democrats. But in a polling analysis conducted by The Philadelphia Tribune, there are also signs Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates are picking up higher than usual numbers of African Americans.
In races such as the brutal Kentucky U.S. Senate race, President Barack Obama’s political arch nemesis Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is actually picking up near 20 percent Black support, according to a late August Public Policy Polling poll, and 27 percent according to a Bluegrass State poll that same month.
In states like Kentucky, the role of Black voters may be the decisive edge in tight races where the African-American population is in the double digits. McConnell’s challenger, Alison Lundergran-Grimes, will need all the votes she can get.
Low voter turnout in off-cycle elections is a frequent occurrence in American politics. A combination of deficient awareness, apathy and disenchantment with politicians adds to a brutal climate in which Pew Research Center noted only 15 percent of the American population is truly paying attention.
“Midterm elections rarely excite the general public, but 2014 is shaping up to be an especially underwhelming cycle for many Americans,” noted Pew’s Seth Motel. “Attention to the elections consistently has lagged behind what it was four years ago. In eight surveys this year, news interest in the midterms has never topped 16 percent in a given week.”
Black turnout was only 10 percent in the 2010 elections. Strategists are expecting it to be much lower than in recent years, particularly compared to the 2008 and 2012 election cycles. A mix of still high double-digit unemployment numbers for African Americans and grumblings of disappointment with the first Black president are pointed to as culprits.
But what’s especially striking is a number of polls which show Black approval numbers for Democratic candidates being much lower than what those candidates will need to make convincing dashes over the finish line come Election Day. In addition, African-American approval ratings for President Obama — viewed by prognosticators as a pre-election indicator of Democratic performance — are not as high, either. In some states like Arkansas and Louisiana, Black approval ratings for the president are just south of 80 percent.
Recent YouGov polls find incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) in a tight race against spirited challenger Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). However, Pryor’s level of Black support, currently at 76 percent, has some strategists worried, along with the 15 percent who are unsure. The same is seen in Georgia where 30 percent of the population is African American, yet Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn can’t seem to break an 80 percent ceiling with Black supporters.
And even though Republican nominee David Perdue’s current standing of 9 percent with Black voters might be considered small, it’s significant: It could make two or three percentage points of a difference in an election where Nunn needs large numbers of Black voters turning out to carry her over.
Such low enthusiasm among Black voters for Democratic candidates is also striking in Senate races in Louisiana and North Carolina. Louisiana finds itself in a confusingly crowded nine-candidate race in which incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and her primary challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy are expected to be the top vote-getters. But with Cassidy pulling six percent of Black support along with disqualified candidate and Black preacher Raymond Brown pulling in a five percent Black protest vote, a whopping 17 percent Black voters being undecided means serious trouble for Landrieu.
The same can be said of North Carolina where incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) is struggling to fend off Republican challenger Thom Tillis. But she’ll need to find a way to shave off the 7 percent of Black supporters Tillis is getting.
Gubernatorial races are not immune to the trend either. Maryland could be getting its first Black governor ever, if only current Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown can shore up his Black base. Maryland is considered another bastion of African-American political power with its massive 30 percent Black population.
But strategists are visibly worried about Brown’s chances since he is only single point digits ahead of Republican challenger Larry Hogan in a state where Democrats out-register Republicans by a margin of 2-to-1. However, Brown could be underestimating possible discontent among Caucasian voters in the Western and Eastern parts of the state, as well as predominantly white counties outside of Baltimore and suburban Washington, D.C. A recent Gravis Marketing Poll found Brown only 3 percentage points ahead of Hogan and another YouGov poll showed him only capturing 69 percent of the Black vote.
The Illinois Governor’s race between Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Ill.) and wealthy GOP nominee Bruce Rauner was supposed to be an easy take for the state’s powerful Democratic machine. But instead, both candidates are neck-in-neck and Quinn’s 69 percent rating among Black voters is not helping his cause any.
Unusually high Black support for statewide Republican candidates is getting closer focus from Democrats worried about the implications in 2016. In Ohio, current Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), who is currently considered a 2016 presidential hopeful, is not only getting 15 percent Black support in a recent YouGov poll, but he also snagged an endorsement from the Ohio’s largest and most influential Black newspaper the Cleveland Call and Post.
However, the same cannot be said for political brand name Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Carter, grandson of President Jimmy Carter. While the grandfather’s legacy among African Americans is near legendary, the grandson can’t translate it into any wide support for his bid against incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) who is, according to the most recent Public Policy Polling poll, grabbing 15 percent of the Black vote in the Peach State.