The Swinging Electorate

Despite formidable efforts to disenfranchise African Americans in 2012, a larger percentage of black voters than white voters turned out at the polls to assure Obama’s victory on Election Day.

Marc MorialBy 

It’s official: African Americans are the nation’s most important swing state.

Last summer, I predicted that the African American vote would tip the scales in the 2012 election of Barack Obama. My organization, the National Urban League, foresaw a continuation of a trend that proved to be a decisive factor in Obama’s 2008 campaign.

The Census Bureau has now confirmed our analysis. Not only did the 2012 black vote make the difference in several key swing states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the biggest prize of all, Ohio, but black voters turned out a higher rate than white voters.

Since 1996, black voter turnout rates have risen 13 percentage points, and the number of blacks who voted in 2012 rose by about 1.7 million over 2008. This is even more remarkable given that overall voting among eligible citizens declined last year.

This boost in turnout also demonstrates that, in the face of a widespread voter suppression campaign, a record number of blacks heeded the National Urban League’s call to “Occupy the Vote” — a campaign that reached 10 million people through traditional and social media, phone banking, and grassroots and community outreach. In fact, all Census divisions where voting rates of blacks exceeded those of whites included states that introduced major voter suppression tactics in the year leading up to the election.

While the National Urban League doesn’t endorse individual candidates, we do encourage civic engagement, and our affiliates have always played leading roles in voter registration drives. That’s why we are also pleased that African Americans registered in record numbers last year. The registration rate for blacks rose from 69.7 percent in 2008 to 73.1 percent in 2012 — the highest registration rate ever recorded.

In Ohio, where Obama won 96 percent of the African-American vote, the black registration rate was 74.4 percent. In North Carolina, a state he lost this time around, African-American registration increased from 71 percent in 2008 to 85 percent in 2012 with 80.2 percent of eligible black voters going to the polls, up from 68.1 percent four years ago.

The increase in black voter participation is a turning point for several reasons.

First, it’s clear that Mitt Romney would have eked out a victory in 2012 if voters had turned out at 2004 levels. White turnout was higher and black turnout was lower in that presidential election.

Second, due to an increase in overall minority voting, people of color will be wielding even more electoral clout in the coming years. According to the demographer William Frey, “by 2024, their vote will be essential to victory.”

Third, this demographic shift is prodding both major political parties to increase their outreach and appeal to minority voters and to reassess the impact their policies are having on those communities.

As the Associated Press put it, “The findings represent a tipping point for blacks, who for much of American history were disenfranchised and then effectively barred from voting until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.”

There’s no doubt that the opportunity to re-elect America’s first black president contributed to record black turnout last year. But, no matter who is on the ballot in 2014 and 2016, we must continue to exercise our voice and Occupy the Vote.

Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League and the former mayor of New Orleans.
Distributed via OtherWords (

Defense Secretary Lifted Ban on Women in Combat

“The Pentagon announced an end to the ban on women in combat, finally allowing our military to fully benefit from the talents of women who want to serve and defend our great nation. When we as a nation lift restrictions and allow people to serve based on their performance, we benefit from it. That was true when President Truman desegregated the military, allowing African-Americans to serve as equals. It was true when President Obama ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing our gay and lesbian service members to serve openly. And it is true now for women.  As a Veteran who saw combat action, I know firsthand that America’s daughters are just as capable of defending liberty as her sons.  Allowing our women in uniform to serve fully is a win for our nation. ”  — Rep. Tammy Duckworth


PFAW Update—Everything Worked!

by Michael Keegan, President, People for the American Way

What a week for our side. THANK YOU.

Not only was President Obama reelected handily, with an Electoral College victory larger than that of Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, and George W. Bush (both elections) and a popular vote victory margin of millions of votes, we also added some stellar new Senators (bringing the number of women Senators to 20), picked up a few seats in the House, and won important ballot initiatives–including a remarkable 4-for-4 run on marriage equality questions.

The Story of the Election: Latinos

I couldn’t be prouder of the role that People For the American Way played in making Tuesday a success. Most notably, the story of the night was the powerful impact of Latino voters. PFAW was right in the center of it with our first of its kind, comprehensive plan of TV and radio ads, direct mail and internet to get out the vote and communicate with Latino voters in six key swing states about Mitt Romney’s dangerous agenda, as well as the GOP’s extreme and offensive rhetoric about the Latino community. The result was overwhelming–President Obama won 3-to-1 among Latinos. Long story short: if Republicans think they can be a national party while demonizing Latinos and immigrants, it’s not just wrong, it’s stupid politics. We will stay in this fight.


At the same time, President Obama and progressive candidates benefited from an impressive show of support from women voters, and again PFAW was right in the thick of it where it mattered most. Just as we predicted, women voters in Ohio were crucial to the outcome of the election, and we spared no effort to make sure they knew how Mitt Romney’s agenda would hurt them. In particular, we used polling and focus group data to hone our message about how Mitt Romney’s Supreme Court wouldn’t just endanger reproductive freedom for women, it would make it harder to get fair pay on the job and a fair shake in general. With television ads, direct mail and targeted professional phone banks, we reached out to exactly the right voters to make a difference on Election Day by getting out to vote. This was a great way to bring PFAW’s now 31 years of work on the Supreme Court to a laser focus on a key group of voters in a critically important state.

Todd Akin and Friends

Finally, one of the happiest moments of election night came when Tea Party candidate Todd Akin was unceremoniously defeated in Missouri. While most Americans know Akin best for his outlandish comments about rape, PFAW’s Right Wing Watch team uncovered information about his decades long association with violent anti-abortion groups, including no fewer than eight instances in which Akin was arrested at abortion clinics. The New York Times cited the story as one of the defining narratives of the closing weeks of the election. We’re glad we could help hand him the defeat he so richly deserves. This was just the latest example of Right Wing Watch’s stellar work over the last 2 years, connecting Right Wing candidates with their extremist past and their radical allies.

In every case, PFAW’s work had a powerful impact on the outcome of the race.

African Americans and Young Voters to the Polls

Separately, People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council and Young People For did brilliant work in making sure that no matter who they voted for, every American got a chance to cast a vote. Despite a concerted effort to keep people away from the polls and countless predictions that young people and African Americans would stay home on Election Day, exit polls showed that African Americans turned out at the same or higher rates they did in 2008, and young people increased their participation. PFAW Foundation pulled out all the stops in order to help make that happen. With clergy trainings, Trick-or-Vote rallies, online recruitment tools, old fashioned handouts, buses, vans and automobiles, our Fellows and ministers left absolutely no stone unturned to make sure that every possible voter cast a ballot on or before election day.

Take the most-watched Ohio, for instance. Even with right-wing Secretary of State Jon Husted’s cutback on early voting hours, and a decrease in early voting turnout as a result, the African American share of the electorate increased from 11 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2012. And according to CBS News: “More African-Americans voted in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida than in 2008.” PFAW Foundation is proud to have had a part in that.

On behalf of both PFAW and PFAW Foundation, I want to say thank you for all the support you’ve provided this year. None of it would be possible without your generosity and commitment.

Now we roll up our sleeves for the real work.  There’s plenty more work to be done to defend the values we care about, but I hope you’ll take a few moments to pause and celebrate just how much we’ve accomplished.

The Dream — and the Reality

In America, whites have 20 times the wealth of African-Americans.  So says census data.

Not 20% more.  Not twice as much.  Twenty times as much.  Specifically, the median household wealth for whites in 2009 was $113,149, and the median household wealth for African-Americans was $5,677.

When I heard this a few months ago, it was not entirely news to me.  When I was in Congress, I read the reports that the Federal Reserve sent to Members; to me, that was interesting reading.  In the appendix to one of those Fed reports, from a survey of respondents selected in 2007, these numbers caught my eye:

White, non-Hispanic households – $149,900

Hispanic and African-American households – $23,300

So from $149,900 down to $113,149, and from $23,300 (including Hispanics) down to $5,677.  These numbers confirm just how hard the Great Recession has whacked minority households.

But there is a deeper issue.  Can someone please explain to me how, in a country where we are told again and again that we are “all created equal,” one group ends up with 20 times as much as another?

MLK’s dream was that his four young children would “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.”  What are we supposed to think – that one group has twenty times as much character as another?

In the face of incredible numbers like these, you will still find right-wingers who insist that America is now a color-blind society (except for the scourge of “reverse racism”).  But the numbers tell a different story.  They suggest that America is not a color-blind society, but rather a racism-blind society.

And ask yourself:  when has any elected official, ANY elected official, ever discussed this inconvenient truth, and tried to discern what should be done about it?  Why is there a veil of silence over such a salient, central fact about the country we all share?

I went to a wonderful parade on Saturday, celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  And if there is one thing that we know in Central Florida, it’s how to put on a parade; we have several every day.  All those smiling, happy faces that I saw on Saturday.

And it’s not my job to rain on anyone’s parade.  That’s why I’m saying this today, not yesterday, when we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  But here we are, 49 years later, his “four young children” as old as I am, and one of them already gone from us.

And I have to say, about that dream of equality that he had, it’s still just a dream.

Just a dream.


Alan Grayson

Robert Kennedy, on dreams:  “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why . . . . I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”