Black turnout: Can Obama help with early voting?

Black turnout and early voting: President Obama pulls out all the stops to stump for Hillary Clinton in the final days of election.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
President Obama arrives to board Air Force One for travel to North Carolina from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Wednesday, to stump for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Hillary Clinton has set her sights on wooing African-American and Hispanic voters in the last push before the presidential election on Nov. 8. This past week, she has spent time in a black church and a Caribbean-American neighborhood, and hosted a concert with Latin singers Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony. But the Democratic nominee’s most powerful weapon to reverse poor turnout among black voters could be the man she hopes to replace.

President Obama is on the trail for Mrs. Clinton this week, urging black voters to keep his legacy alive when he leaves office, and decrying the FBI for releasing a report of an email cache that could relate to Clinton’s private server.

With the race deadlocked, the emails scandal and minority voter turnout have some Clinton supporters worried. In states that include North Carolina, Michigan, and Florida, black voter turnout in early voting has shown a drop off from 2012, when Mr. Obama brought in record numbers. But Obama, whose popularity is as high as ever, could reverse these trends.

Obama has several visits to North Carolina and Florida planned this week. He appeared with singer-songwriter James Taylor in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Wednesday, and he has two appearances scheduled in Florida on Thursday.

He also took to the airwaves Wednesday. In addition to criticizing the letter FBI Director James Comey sent to Congress, Obama appealed to African-American voters.

"I know there are a lot of people in barber shops, in beauty salons, in the neighborhoods who are saying to themselves, you know, we love Barack, we especially love Michelle, so it was exciting, and now we're not excited so much," Obama said on the "Tom Joyner Morning Show."

"I need everybody to understand that everything we've done is dependent on me being able to pass the baton to somebody who believes in the same things I believe in."

Both of Obama’s presidential campaigns capitalized on record-high turnout among black voters. While Clinton was able to continue that momentum in the primaries among African-Americans older than 45, turnout among younger voters was stagnant then.

In September, Obama appealed to the black community.

"I will consider it a personal insult, an insult to my legacy, if this community lets down its guard," Obama said at a dinner hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in Washington. "You want to give me a good send off? Go vote!"

But early voter turnout among black communities has been low since early voting started this past week, an especially unusual trend in Florida. African-American voters are traditionally a powerful force in early in-person voting in Florida, according to Politico. After Sunday night’s polls closed, this demographic accounted for 16 percent of in-person early vote ballot casts over the course of five days. In just two days of in-person early voting in 2012, black voters had cast 25 percent of early ballots, according to Dan Smith, a University of Florida political science professor and author of must-read Election Smith blog.

The black vote in Florida could be a key part of a Clinton victory. While the demographic accounts for only 13 percent of the 13 million registered voters in the state, African-Americans often give Democrats 90 percent of their vote, according to Politico. This fact is all the more important because polling suggests Donald Trump must win Florida's 29 electoral votes to win the election.

Trump’s campaign has focused its effort on white voters. It has targeted the conservative panhandle, working-class inland areas, and the state’s senior citizen population.

A poor turnout for Clinton thus far, however, could be the result of a generational split among the African-American community. While an older generation of black activists has had deep ties to the Democratic party, younger activists who are part of the Black Lives Matter movement haven’t shown the same loyalty, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Harry Bruinius reported: 

Indeed, the ethos of the Black Lives Matter movement is in many ways part of a larger culture of grievance that is reshaping American politics. And like many of the supporters of Mr. Trump, the movement’s younger activists maintain a deep distrust of the powers that be, from the media to big corporations and the traditional power structures that shape the country’s party politics – each of these often seen as "rigged."

This contrasts with older voters’ overwhelming support for Clinton in the past.

"I’m just at the generation where I felt that that the issues are about attaining political power," Randal Jelks, professor of African-American studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, told the Monitor, noting that the talk among many of his friends is that the politics of the Black Lives Matter generation is often "annoying."

In addition to trying to reach out to this younger group, Obama defended Clinton Wednesday over Mr. Comey's letter. In his first comments since Comey sent the letter to Congress on Friday, Obama said he didn’t want to meddle in the process, but "when there are investigations we don't operate on innuendo and we don't operate on incomplete information and we don't operate on leaks."

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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