Poll Vault

11.06.12

Black Voters Turn Out in Big Numbers for Obama

Faced with the possibility that Obama might lose, African-Americans show their support where it counts—at the polls. Allison Samuels reports.

75-year old Yancy Jones wasn’t sure he’d make it out today to vote for the next president of the United States. The Inglewood, Calif., native is still struggling with the aftermath of a severe stroke he suffered in March that’s limited his speech and his ability to stand for long periods of time. Nonetheless, with his wooden cane in one hand and a small Bible his grandfather gave him five decades ago in the other, Jones stood outside a voting booth in Inglewood this morning to cast his vote for a man he calls his hero: Barack Obama.

Jones, like many of the blacks and Latinos standing in line today, said they had no choice but to give this presidential election the same priority they and millions of others gave it four years ago. In 2008, they stood in line to cast their votes for the first African-American president. This time around, they say they’re voting for Obama and a whole lot more.

“This entire campaign has just made me so upset with this country that I thought had come further along,” Jones said slowly. “Some of the same things my parents fought against and I fought against were back into play, like the right to vote. There was no way I could let that happen, so I had to come and vote for Obama whether I felt good health-wise or not.”

Few could have imagined an African-American or Latino community more excited and focused than it was in 2008. Obama’s win introduced a new type of hero for people of color, and his accomplishments and solid family life appeared to resonate across both communities equally.

Expectations were high for the former community leader and law-school graduate. But three years into Obama’s first term, the change he often spoke of hadn’t arrived with the speed many had hoped. Unemployment for African-Americans continued to soar above 15 percent, a sobering reality that threatened to crush the spirits of Obama’s most loyal and dedicated base.

“I said from the beginning that we as black people had to be more realistic to what this President could do,” said NBA star Magic Johnson. “There was no magical way for him to fix our problems in a short period of time. And he’s the president of everyone, not just black people. Not sure everyone understood that.”

Though some Democrats feared Obama would fail to move black voters to turn out in significant numbers the second time around, few understood just how heavily issues like voter suppression and poverty would loom in the campaign’s closing months.

Former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young said he was convinced African-Americans would remain staunchly loyal to President Obama when it was needed the most. And he was right: reports indicate record turnout for African-American voters in key states across the country.

“I never thought black people would be lethargic in this election. We couldn’t afford to be. I knew they’d vote in large numbers once they saw the alternative,” Young said. “The alternative made it clear that we have to vote to get President Obama back in. He offers us a much brighter future no matter how slow we think things have been. I knew black people would come to realize that before it was too late.”

Many people in voting lines today around Los Angeles echoed Young’s sentiment, with several adding that they’d become increasingly fearful in the last few weeks of a world without President Obama.

“I never thought black people would be lethargic in this election. We couldn’t afford to be,” said former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young.

“It kinda hit me a few days ago that I’d begun to take President Obama for granted,” said 34-year-old Latrice Owens of Long Beach, Calif. “I’ve been out of work for a while, so that had made me less than interested in this campaign. I figured, What does it matter in my life right now? But then I said, Wait a minute, Mitt Romney doesn’t even acknowledge people of color or poor people at all. I better go and vote for Obama again before I’m really sorry.”

45-year-old Liz Jacobs, an Inglewood schoolteacher, admitted she was also motivated to vote by a feeling of fear and doom this Election Day. Jacobs arrived at 6 a.m. to stand in line to vote.

“I was always going to vote, and vote for Obama,” said Jacobs. “But recently it became about much more than Obama being president. It’s about what he and his family have brought to the country’s landscape over the last four years. I feel happy and optimistic when I see Barack and Michelle. They give me hope, and the kids I teach hope, for something better. I don’t know what that means if President Obama gets rejected four years later. I’m not sure where that leaves us as a community, to have such a public rejection of a good man.”

A large number people of color at the polls today said they couldn’t imagine the next four years without the man they feel has, overall, represented them well. “I’m proud of the man,” said Jones. “He fought the good fight against all odds. He got Bin Laden and he kept his head high when people were attacking and doubting him. That’s a hero in my book, and you don’t find many of them anymore.”