Low Black Voter Turnout Predicted In Fall Elections

A University of Maryland election scholar predicts that this nation's low black voter turnout probably will continue when African-Americans cast ballots during this fall's congressional elections.

Ronald Walters, a professor of political science, explained to reporters at a September 9 briefing at the U.S. Information Agency's Foreign Press Center that low turnouts by black voters in recent years reflect their frustration with the political system.

"Blacks have been responding to the political mood - the more conservative political culture, and thinking that they have not gotten as much out of the political system" as others and "therefore, why vote?" Walters said while discussing this November's mid-term elections and related matters.

Walters pointed to statistics which reveal that voter turnout by blacks in the 1992 congressional election was 54 percent, 37 percent in 1994 and just 25 percent in 1996 - where it remains today.

Low participation of African-American voters, he said, has inspired a surge of campaigning aimed at mollifying frustrated black constituents. He pointed out that the Black Leadership Forum (BLF), an organization of the top 25 U.S. black organizations, has launched "Operation Big Vote" with the motto "Lift Every Voice and Vote." The Forum seeks to elect as many Democrats as possible into Congress to regain control of that legislative body from the Republicans.

Rather than focus on individual candidates, he said, the forum has targeted black voters' top priorities: education, healthcare, drugs and the economy, civil rights and affirmative action, urban and rural policies, criminal justice, the 2000 census and equal punishment of drug offenses for both black and white offenders.

"There has been a careful delineation of those places where the black vote could make a difference in various elections this fall," Walters commented.

For despite low turnouts in recent years, said Walters, a political analyst for the Black Entertainment Network (BET) during the 1996 presidential election, there is no question that the black vote plays a crucial factor in U.S. elections.

Two previous presidential elections, he said, saw the white vote almost evenly split between Bush and Clinton (1992) and Dole and Clinton (1996). The black vote, which comprised 10 percent of the electorate, was heavily in favor of Clinton in each election and was crucial to his success.

"I think we can see that clearly without the black vote in the 1992 and 1996 elections that Bill Clinton would not have been president of the United States," Walters said.

There are currently 39 black members of Congress (38 Democratic; 1 Republican) on Capitol Hill. Yet this could change in the future, he said. Some 34 blacks now running for national office are Republican, and eight to twelve percent of blacks also are voting Republican now as well, said Walters.

Despite the low voter turnouts, the black community in America nonetheless has given a good rating so far to the Clinton administration, Walters said.

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