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Will black voters give Obama what he needs in Southern swing states?

Black voters who do go to the polls are near-certain to vote for Obama. But in Virginia and North Carolina, concern is rising that the black voters who sealed the deal for Obama in 2008 will stay home.

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The president’s supporters argue that Obama’s record makes it clear that he has worked for black advancement, as he promised.

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His signature health-care law will boost the plight of poorer blacks, they say, and his support for public service jobs in the stimulus bill also benefits the community. (According to the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center, 21 percent of black workers are public employees.) Middle-class tax cuts, too, have helped black families as well as white.

And, says Professor Gillespie, likely black voters do not fault Obama for the poor economy, but but the blame instead on what they see as obstructionist Republicans trying to undermine the president at all costs.

“I’ve heard black people say the president would do more, but ‘they’ won’t let him,” says Carol Swain, a Vanderbilt University professor who specializes in evangelical politics, and who is herself African-American. “They believe that if he’s reelected he’ll do more for them.”

Black support for Obama could be seen in a California snap poll taken by SurveyUSA shortly after Wednesday’s first presidential debate, in which everybody surveyed but African-Americans thought Mitt Romney won.

Moreover, in this election, voting for Obama is less about racial pride and more about policy – particularly that Republican policies hold fewer specific rewards or distinct promises for the black community, suggests David Bositis, a political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, in an interview with the Tennesseean newspaper in Nashville.

“African-Americans are still facing a lot of hardships,” he told the paper. “But Republicans are offering nothing more than the same of what they had under George Bush, and what they had under George Bush was hard times – with no promise of things getting better.”

Grim numbers for black community

Yet the plight of the black community under Obama has by most measures worsened since he took office:

• The median annual income of black families fell by 11.1 percent over the past three years, about double the decline for white families, and the black poverty rate is now up to nearly 28 percent, up 2 percent from 2009. The black unemployment rate is at 14 percent nationally, but even higher in Southern states, where most blacks live.

• Urban inner cores in Chicago, Detroit, and other big cities have seen unusual mob lawlessness involving black youth – a sign of disaffection and decoupling of blacks from the national economy and the nation as a whole, suggests Ms. Swain at Vanderbilt.

• Foreclosure rates are higher among blacks than whites, and black homeownership – which has traditionally constituted 60 percent of African-American wealth – has fallen in percentage terms compared to whites, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.


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