While some may be quick to blame the outcome of the 2016 presidential election on Russian hacking, one big contributor to the Democratic loss was something many feared would happen – a drop-off in African-American turnout once former President Barack Obama was no longer heading the ticket.
New census and voter file-based evidence, which is more accurate than the initial exit polls, shows in 2016, turnout among whites was up across the country. At the same time, Black turnout was down from 66 percent in 2012 to 59 percent in 2016.
The lower Black turnout might be explained as a reversion after Blacks’ historic turnout for Obama in 2008 and 2012. It’s possible that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton could never inspire Black turnout the way the first African-American president could.
Even if this shift is more of a return to the old status quo, analyst Patrick Ruffini, who studied the data, says Democrats will still have to grapple with these turnout levels going forward.
“Painting Trump as a bigot did not motivate more African-Americans to vote,” Ruffini said. “Hope and shared identity seem to be much more effective turnout motivators than fear.”
Elections are decided by two chief factors: Who turns out and which candidate they vote for. Turnout alone did not decide the 2016 election — and that the key factor in Trump’s success with groups like the white working class was not that he got way more of them to the polls than Mitt Romney did, but simply that he won a much higher share of their votes.
If there was one area where Democratic turnout was undeniably weaker in 2016 than 2012, it was among African-Americans, according to Ruffini, who compared actual 2016 turnout to pre-election modeled turnout expectations.
“While most of the conversation around electoral demographics has focused on the growing Latino population, African-Americans are still the most electorally influential nonwhite group because they make up a larger share of the voting population both in the U.S. overall and in swing states in particular.
“And for Democrats, the influence of Black voters is further amplified because, as a group, they vote for Democratic candidates by such large margins,” Ruffini said.
Clinton won about 66 percent of Latino voters, compared to Trump’s 28 percent; she won African-American voters 89 percent to 8 percent. Turnout among Latino voters is rising, and this is good news for Democrats, especially as African-American turnout has fallen.
But the difference in the margins by which these two groups lean Democratic means Democrats need to work twice as hard to net the same number of votes from the Latino community as they could from the African-American community.