Recent reports of a rise in African American turnout in the 2014 primaries, the implications of this in light of the new voter ID law, and the upcoming court case surrounding it, looks like much ado about nothing. Others may disagree, of course, but the latest analysis by DemocracyNC seems to indicate that those who say “Massive Black turnout increase! Voter ID vindicated!” and “Massive Black turnout increase! Voter backlash! Republicans doomed this November!” are both wrong.
Here are the facts: Black turnout in the 2010 primaries was 11.42%. In the 2014 primaries, turnout increased, to 13.36%.
Reports of a mammoth increase in African American turnout are based on raw numbers of voters. In 2010, about 150,000 Blacks voted in the primaries. In 2014, that number was about 200,000. Those same reports say this is an increase of about 29%, while whites only increased their numbers by 16% or something. While that’s true, one must consider the fact that the Black population of this state is on the rise, particularly in urban areas. The white population is not growing as fast. But this is not news to anyone. It’s the same demographic shift we’ve been hearing about for years now. And it has almost nothing to do with voter turnout, or has any implication for November (though a declining White population is obviously not good news for Republicans).
Up to this point, I’m in agreement with the folks at DemocracyNC, who concede that yes, overall Black turnout increased. But wait, they say. Just looking at the statewide voting totals is a distortion of the real picture, and it’s necessary to look at turnout, county-by-county. They find, to their horror, that Black turnout actually declined in 32 counties. Oh no! If that’s the case, then there were only 68 counties with a rise in African American turnout from 2010.
Then they point out this statistic: “Two-thirds (66%) of the increased number of votes cast by black voters statewide came from just 7 counties where there were hot races and/or stronger Early Voting opportunities than offered in 2010.”
So basically, one-third of the increased African American turnout came from counties where there were no hot races and Early Voting opportunities no stronger than those offered in 2010. Basically, the rise in Black turnout is unaccounted for. Thank goodness we might get a preliminary injunction to stop this madness.
Their implication is that in many counties where there was a rise in Black turnout, there were actually competitive races on the ballot, so we should just discount those results. OK, but what about the counties that saw a drop in African American turnout? Maybe they had competitive races in their locality in 2010 and didn’t this year. Should we just ignore those counties too?
Finally, DemocracyNC ignores the biggest contest from 2010 – the May Democratic U.S. Senate primary. We would expect to see a decline in African American turnout from 2010, if nothing else because most African Americans are Democrats and Democrats did not have a competitive Senate primary in 2014. The increase in Black turnout in spite of this is perhaps evidence that African Americans are indeed more energized than they were in 2010. A study on the partisan turnout from the 2010 and 2014 primaries would be needed to confirm these findings.
While I disagree with their conclusions, the report at DemocracyNC deserves a look. And if you really want to delve deeper into the data, download the Excel file to see the dataset they compiled from which they derived their analysis. Special thanks to them for making this data available.
The bottom line: given the lack of a competitive Democratic Senate primary, we would have expected to see a decline in Black turnout. Instead, we saw an increase. We don’t know why. It could be that local races drew higher turnout – say, the 12th district Democratic primary. It could be that backlash against Republican legislators did the trick. Perhaps there was a combination of both.
In any case, those who favor the new voter reforms don’t have to provide evidence of higher turnout from certain groups, though they have it now. Instead, the burden of proof is on liberal organizations to show that turnout has been reduced. So far they’ve failed, miserably.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.