Did the GOP’s Voter Suppression Efforts Backfire?


Much was written over the last two years, including by me, about the Republican party’s attempts all across the country to suppress the votes of poor and minority voters and make it more difficult for them to get to the polls. But a new report from Pew concludes that black voters, in particular, voted in unprecedented numbers anyway:

Blacks voted at a higher rate this year than other minority groups and for the first time in history may also have voted at a higher rate than whites, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data, election day exit poll data and vote totals from selected cities and counties.

Unlike other minority groups whose increasing electoral muscle has been driven mainly by population growth, blacks’ rising share of the vote in the past four presidential elections has been the result of rising turnout rates.

These participation milestones are notable not just in light of the long history of black disenfranchisement, but also in light of recently-enacted state voter identification laws that some critics contended would suppress turnout disproportionately among blacks and other minority groups.

Josh Marshall argues that the GOP’s voter suppression efforts helped drive that turnout:

If you know the history of disenfranchisement in the African-American community, this is a pretty amazing milestone. I continue to think — and I’m not alone in this — that Republican sowed the wind with voter suppression tactics and reaped the whirlwind. Far from taking the edge off African-American turnout, which was the intent, it mobilized these voters to historic levels.

While I’d like to believe that’s true, I’m not sure it is and I don’t think this Pew report provides evidence for that conclusion. There are several other possible explanations, any of which might explain the trend, the most obvious being that Obama’s identity as the nation’s first black president may have been the key factor driving higher black turnout. The fact that black voters made up a higher percentage of voters than they make up of the general population in 2008 as well lends credence to that explanation.

The real difference between 2008 and 2012 is that white voters turned out in lower numbers this year, which may be explained by lack of enthusiasm for Romney. Of course, it may be that both of these explanations are true; it doesn’t have to be a single factor that explains it, many different factors could be in operation. I would add a third factor, which is the unprecedented voter turnout machine put together by the Obama campaign.

Comments

  1. Jeremy Shaffer says

    Whatever the reason I’d bet there will be many on the right pointing to this so they can claim that reports of voter suppression was just a baseless conspiracy cooked up by liberals for cover if they lost the election.

  2. says

    I suspect that it was a number of factors working together, including a desire to thwart voter suppression and a feeling of finally having someone to vote *for.*

    However, Republican gerrymandering of voting districts worked in that they retained control of a House they would have lost if the districts had remained the same. While the Democrats are in power, I do hope that they put in some laws about standards for redrawing districts or simply bite the bullet and authorize themselves to draw them all as square as possible. I know they’re supposed to do it only every ten years but gerrymandering amounts to corruption of democracy.

  3. says

    I’d certainly like to think the suppression efforts backfired, but my inner cynic keeps me from being too wishful in my thinking, since there are alternative explanations.

    I remember getting quite angry whenever my history classes would get around to the civil rights movement and all the ridiculous barriers they had to knock down just to vote. It’s sad that we have to continue that same struggle because of all the bigots and manipulators trying to take us back to the bad old days. We’ve certainly seen the hateful rhetoric condemning minorities as being less than “real” Americans.

  4. jamessweet says

    Whatever the reason I’d bet there will be many on the right pointing to this so they can claim that reports of voter suppression was just a baseless conspiracy cooked up by liberals for cover if they lost the election.

    The grain of truth in that is that there was a bit of paranoia, even among people I generally respect, that the voter suppression efforts were going to be far more successful than was really ever plausible. I didn’t say anything at the time, because what would be the point? “I agree with your aims and that this is a problem, and it’s useful that you are worked up about it, but some of your reasons for being worked up are probably a little silly”? Meh, I’m not going to say that, at least not aloud.

  5. sqlrob says

    I suspect that it was a number of factors working together, including a desire to thwart voter suppression and a feeling of finally having someone to vote *for.*

    Someone to vote for? Are we talking any election in recent memory? Possibly 2008 (if you weren’t paying attention), but 2012, really?

  6. PatrickG says

    I can’t claim this is evidence of a national trend, but roaming around precincts in Cincinnati on Election Day provides some anecdotal support* for Marshall’s position.

    People (here, African-American people) were seriously pissed. Righteously angry. Nothing but nothing was going to stop them from voting, and the Romney campaign observers got some very cold shoulders. People brought up the subject in the context of “I want to make sure I’m at the right precinct, can you help with that? Those (expletives) aren’t going to stop me from voting.”

    *Yes, yes, I know how much that’s worth.

  7. josephmccauley says

    Those folks standing in crazy long lines in Ohio and Florida were my heroes. I’m sure there were other places that did not get as much press. I was waiting for them to hold up a purple ink-marked wrist after voting.
    I think it was the clown from PA who said his voter ID bill ensured Romney would win in PA that sent me over the edge. I wanted to shake him.

  8. says

    See? The Democrats are the real racists! The Republicans love minorities so much they’re willing to “try” to “suppress” their “vote”, thus bringing them out in record numbers to “cast” their “ballot”.

  9. dmcclean says

    Congratulations, modusoperandi, for finding a parody of Republican talking points too ridiculous to be mistaken for their actual talking points. I was starting to despair whether this would ever again be possible, but you have done it well and I commend you sir. :)

  10. dingojack says

    On the news here they had a vox pop with an elderly black woman who, when asked why she had waited in line for so long, said something like:
    ‘In the old days they wouldn’t even let us vote. Nobody is gonna stop me voting now!’
    Dingo
    ——-
    Yes – not evidence – but an interesting window into what the American media wanted to see.

  11. David C Brayton says

    I heard an interesting hypothesis recently: the power of the far right was greatly increased because gerrymandering resulted in new districts are so throughly to the right, that the elected officials need not worry about reelection. Therefore, they feel they can take extreme positions and not compromise.

    The upshot of this is that the GOP is being seen as more fanatical which will hurt them in the long run.

  12. says

    David C Brayton “I heard an interesting hypothesis recently: the power of the far right was greatly increased because gerrymandering resulted in new districts are so throughly to the right, that the elected officials need not worry about reelection. Therefore, they feel they can take extreme positions and not compromise.”
    And the rest are terrified of being labeled “RINOs” and primaried (which they will anyway, because purity is never pure enough).
    And with a mantra of “government can’t work” obstructionism, perversely, helps them, suppressing the vote (as Mods “turn off”), giving them free reign to say “send me back to DC (to not fix the problem I exacerbate)”.
    And, at worst, the [I’m told] liberal media will say “both sides do it” (but they’ll rush to unremember refering to filibusters as “failing to reach the required 60 votes in the Senate” when the Senate flips and the Dems are the minority).
    And the money on the Right isn’t just plutocrats anymore; it’s plutocrats who, like the frothy Bircher “Base”, watch Foxnews.
    And the Mod Republicans are pretty much gone (gone “Independent” and “staying out of politics”, sometimes, urging both sides to “come together” to “the middle” and agree on whatever Trickle-Down or Austerity madness the GOP is pushing, even if the Dems have adopted whatever the Mod Republicans used to believe. The the poor and the old, apparently, are the greatest threat to the 1%’s continued low taxation, while unemployment and Defense spending are piffles. Piffles! And the deficit! Oh my, the deficit!).
    The positive feedback loops promote bad actions and the negative ones aren’t strong enough to moderate.
    *sigh*
    Did you try turning it off and on again?

  13. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    While the Democrats are in power, I do hope that they put in some laws about standards for redrawing districts or simply bite the bullet and authorize themselves to draw them all as square as possible. – Markita Lynda

    It should be done by an independent electoral commission, as in (AFAIK) every other country with a serious claim to be a democracy.

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