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How is Obama doing with black voters?

Black voters were a key part of Obama’s election in 2008. But now some African-American leaders are criticizing him for not doing enough.

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“Is there grumbling? Of course there’s grumbling, because we just went through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he told American Urban Radio’s April Ryan. “Everybody is concerned about unemployment, everybody’s concerned about businesses not hiring, everybody’s concerned about their home values declining. And in each of these areas, African-Americans have been disproportionately affected.”

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Perhaps most striking in his interview with Ms. Ryan, who is black, was his repeated use of “we” and “us.” Obama usually does not place himself so overtly in that context, but he appeared to be telling her listeners, “I’m one of you, I’m with you.”

David Bositis, an expert on black politics at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, recently polled black opinion in four states that he calls “pretty representative” of the country – Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, and South Carolina. Obama scored a 95 percent favorability rating with around 80 percent job approval.

“African-Americans are still by far Obama’s strongest supporters,” says Mr. Bositis.

Some black scholars warn that beneath the high job approvals, there are warning signs for Obama. Blacks tell pollsters they still support Obama, but there may be less enthusiasm than a year ago.

One of the big stories of 2008 was the unprecedented mobilization of minority voters. It’s safe to say that keeping minority voters excited and engaged will be part of Obama’s strategy for 2012, assuming he runs for reelection. But he has to give them something to get excited about.

“They’re expecting some return for their support,” says Kerry Haynie, an assistant professor at Duke University.


Another black scholar, Ron Walters, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland at College Park, also sees warning signs for Obama.

“I was just listening to black talk radio, and someone called him a closet Republican,” says Mr. Walters. “There’s been such a celebratory
atmosphere about the fact that he’s our first black president, no one would have dared say that [at first] – but now the mood is changing out there.”

Indeed, some of the criticism among blacks – that Obama is doing more for Wall Street than Main Street – echoes a larger liberal criticism of Obama. And the pressure he faces from black leaders is similar to that from the gay community, which wishes Obama was more proactive on its issues.

Obama has told gays that by the end of his administration, they’ll be pleased. He hasn’t said as much to blacks, but the balancing act that he faces among this critical portion of his party’s base has never been more daunting for a Democratic president.

Andra Gillespie, a scholar on black politics at Emory University in Atlanta, says Obama’s challenge was to be expected. “Obama is still working it out, because he’s the first person in this position,” she says. “There’s no blueprint.”

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See also:

Job losses hit black men hardest
Blacks abandon San Francisco

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