Black voter turnout can’t be blamed for Democrat election losses, but Black ballots counted were alarmingly low.
That’s the conclusion that can be drawn from a postmortem Philadelphia Tribune analysis of voter turnout numbers in the 2016 general election. The number of Black ballots counted nationally significantly decreased by more than 11 percent when compared to Black voter performance in the previous 2012 presidential election cycle, numbers show.
An emerging media narrative points to low Black voter turnout in key states as one factor leading to the demise of Democratic Party presidential hopes, as well as plans to retake the U.S. Senate majority at a time when 10 Republican incumbents were vulnerable.
However, many critics, particularly in the Black political community and on social media, have vigorously pushed back against the notion that Black voters are to blame for huge Republican gains this election cycle, instead pointing to a massive wave of white voters — especially in Rust Belt and Southern states — that overwhelmingly broke for Republican nominee Donald Trump in a contentious and racially charged political campaign.
A preliminary crunch of voter turnout conducted by University of Florida Associate Political Science Professor Michael McDonald shows more than 90 million eligible voters nationwide did not participate in the 2016 election. That’s almost half of eligible voters, with only more than a quarter of eligible voters electing Donald Trump.
Trump on Tuesday night won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in a stunning political upset that most seasoned election cycle forecasters did not see coming.
Still, national turnout was on 56.9 percent this year compared to 58.6 percent in 2012 and the record 62.2 percent in 2008.
But, in terms of the Black vote, the new turnout numbers present a disturbing picture of a Black electorate not reaching its full political potential.
Initial exit polling data show that Black voter turnout was 12 percent of the overall voting population in 2016, just 1 percentage point less than what it was in 2012.
In 2012, Black voter participation had actually surpassed white voter participation, as it represented 13 percent of the overall national vote, matching its proportion to the population.
A deeper look in to turnout numbers by the Tribune reveals a grim portrait of an African-American electorate possibly more bruised than initially thought.
Out of 131,741,500 total ballots counted on election night, 15,008,980 of those were Black voter ballots when factoring in the 12 percent Black turnout data point in exit polling.
But, in 2012, there were 16,938,006 Black voter ballots counted out of a total of 130.3 million ballots nationally. That translates into an alarming 11.4 percent reduction in Black votes between both presidential election cycles.
This doesn’t necessarily reflect turnout — or, the number of Black voters who personally participated in this election cycle. However, it may reflect a mix of varying factors: self-inflicted low-voter enthusiasm which translated into Clinton receiving just 88 percent of Black votes (compared to President Obama’s 93 percent Black voter share in 2012).
Nor does it reflect racially motivated Republican voter suppression strategies, purged voter rolls and polling place dysfunction which resulted in lost ballots in battleground states heavily populated with Black voters; and lack of robust Democratic Party investment in Black voter mobilization and media efforts compared to other demographics, to name a few.
Further analysis also suggests that either Black voter registration numbers are not where they must be or not enough registered Black voters were participating on election day or many were simply lost, due to reported polling place dysfunction and active suppression tactics since early voting started two weeks ago.
In 2016, there were 231,556,622 voting eligible citizens in the United States — out of that number, only 6.5 percent were Black.
In 2012, there were 222,474,111 voting eligible citizens in the United States — with only 7.6 percent being Black. Hence, there was a 14.5 percent decrease between 2012 and 2016 in the Black voting eligible population (or “VEP”) that actually voted.
The Pew Research Center also finds that in 2012, 25.8 million eligible voters were of African descent, with projections that number increased by 6 percent in 2016. Yet, actual Black ballots counted in both 2012 and 2016 elections (as well as the 2014 Congressional midterms) were much lower than that.