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Turnout Fell by Nearly One-Fourth in Key Black Precincts

by: Kenton Ngo

Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 04:13:27 PM EST

Black voters in Virginia are Democrats' most reliable and troublesome voting bloc. Reliable, as the black voters who do show up deliver huge margins for Democrats, and troublesome as they do not turn themselves out. With no black candidates on the statewide ticket, Democrats faced an extra challenge in turning these voters out, and while it seemed they were able to hold their own in 2005 with Gov. Tim Kaine, 2009 nominee Creigh Deeds saw a substantial turnout collapse.

Since we lack reliable exit polling data, this frightening trend for Democrats is difficult to see in county-level returns where white voters cannot be teased apart from black voters. Fortunately for this analysis, there are swaths of Virginia that are populated almost exclusively by blacks, allowing us to see what happened to black turnout on a precinct-by-precinct basis.

The 2000 census indicated 38 precincts where the percentage of black voters within the voting age population was 95% or higher, 34 of which have remained unchanged since then. Those 34 precincts in the 2001, 2005, and 2009 gubernatorial elections voted Democratic with at least 93.6% of the vote, delivering critical margins for the Democratic candidates. However, black turnout in these precincts fell sharply in 2009, mirroring the trend in the rest of the state. All 34 of these precincts were in cities rather than counties, and the results within those 34 were as follows:

Democrat Republican Other Total %Dem %Rep Margin 2001
2001 16,526 986 59 17,571 94.05% 5.61% D+15,540 0%
2005 15,199 878 162 16,329 93.60% 5.40% D+14,321 -7.07%
2009 12,914 676 17 13,607 94.91% 4.90% D+12,238 -22.56%

In 2001, Democrats nominated then-Delegate Donald McEachin, who was black, for Attorney General. While McEachin lost handily to Republican Jerry Kilgore, his presence on the ticket drove black voters to come out for him, and that influence spilled across the rest of the ticket. 2005 saw no black Democrats on the ticket, but former Richmond mayor Tim Kaine was able to survive only a 7% dropoff in total turnout in those precincts. However, in 2009, Creigh Deeds of Bath County suffered when over one in five of the voters in those precincts that turned out in 2001 stayed home.

For Democrats, winning the black vote is never the question--it is merely a question of turnout. If 10 black voters were turned out, 9 of them would typically vote Democratic. Targeting gives way to brute force in situations like this--the challenge is merely get voters to go to the polls.

Black voters formed a substantial part of the Obama coalition that by and large stayed home on Tuesday--and Creigh Deeds refusing to embrace Barack Obama until it was too late did little to help. Having a black candidate downticket, while helpful, is not mandatory in order to drive black turnout. Black voters are not fans of conservative Democrats, especially those who seem to be running away from the first black president in history.

In these 34 precincts alone, Creigh Deeds' margin was 3,302 votes short of Mark Warner's margin--3,302 votes that must be made up by the time-consuming and expensive process of persuading moderates.

As turnout in key black precincts continues to fall in off-year elections, Democrats must find a way to stop it or perish. All the toil and tears expended in converting suburban voters into the Democratic fold will go for naught without a strong base to stand on. Democrats ignore or antagonize the black vote at their own peril--they may be the single most Democratic bloc in existence, but they cannot be taken for granted.

Before Democrats waste their time chasing conservative independents (many of whom recently left the Republican party), they should focus on bringing black turnout up so they have a base to stand on.

Full results in those 34 precincts below the fold:

Kenton Ngo :: Turnout Fell by Nearly One-Fourth in Key Black Precincts
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Bigger issue
As much as I'd like to think that the Democratic Party in general and the Deeds' campaign in particular fail to appreciate the black vote, there is a bigger problem here this year: the fact that reliable Democratic voters - black or white - were ignored by this campaign.  

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