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History in the Making: Black Americans and Obama's Re-election

Lee A. Daniels | 1/30/2013, 12:01 p.m.

What was it that made watching the ceremonies of President Obama's second inauguration more satisfying than even the thrilling spectacle of four years ago?

Certainly, part of it was its occurring the same day as the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday and amid the month-long commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation - underscoring the direct line of descent from Black Americans' longtime freedom struggle to the present.

Certainly, part of it was also savoring Obama's success in making history the second time around - knowing that he had endured the extraordinary test of staunching a wrenching economic crisis; extricating the U.S. from the Bush administration's tragic misadventure in Iraq; maneuvering around the obstructionist tactics of the Congressional Republicans; and beating back the fat-cat power grab the atrocious Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which approved unlimited corporate donations to political campaigns, was supposed to further.

Barack Obama has been wreathed in "making history" since he gained the presidency of the Harvard Law Review 23 years ago. But voluminous evidence exists that the foundation for his current history-making lies in the astutely-waged, post-1960s political gamesmanship of the Democratic Party's most sustaining voting bloc: African-American voters.

That point was driven home most recently by a report the Pew Research Center released in late December. Its title tells the tale: "The Growing Electoral Clout of Blacks Is Driven by Turnout, Not Demographics."

The study's preliminary analysis of the 129 million votes cast November 6 indicates that Blacks not only voted at a substantially higher rate than Hispanic-American and Asian-American voters - who also voted massively for Obama - but may have voted at a higher rate than Whites as well.

If so, it would be a "first" in the history of the presidential-election vote. But the mere fact that it's a possibility underscores several powerful recent developments about the political participation of Black voters and other voters of color.

For one thing, even as Blacks' population growth and, therefore, growth in eligible voters has been leveling off, their rates of turning out to vote have increased markedly. In 2008 that rate hit a high-water mark of 65.2 percent - a rise of 5 percentage points from 2004. By contrast, Whites turned out to vote that year at a rate of 66.1 percent, a percentage point lower than their 2004 showing.

Of course, Obama's candidacy was partly responsible for Blacks' march to the polls. But, in fact, their turnout for presidential elections had been climbing sharply since 1996. That means that even before the Obama candidacy, the Black electorate was on a path to maximizing its voting potential.

The importance of these facts and trends is that this past November President Obama won the support of 93 percent of Black voters; 73 percent of Asian-American voters; 71 percent of Hispanic-American voters; and the majority of votes from women as a group and the 18-to-29 voting bloc. That support, along with gaining 39 percent of White voters, gave him his 4.7 million popular-vote margin and 332-to-206 Electoral-College margin over Mitt Romney.