WASHINGTON -- One of the country's oldest civil rights groups says President Barack Obama may have a tougher time winning at least three battleground states in November should black voter turnout fall at least 5 percentage points below the record levels that helped to put him in the White House.
Black voter turnout of 64.7 percent was a significant factor in Obama's victory in 2008, and African Americans are considered solidly behind Obama now. But having achieved the milestone of electing Obama as the nation's first black president, black voters may be less motivated to return to the polls in droves again, the National Urban League said in a report to be released Tuesday.
Assuming no change in 2008 voting patterns, Urban League researchers said, black turnout at about 60 percent or below could cost Obama North Carolina and make it difficult for him to win Ohio and Virginia. In addition to diminished voter enthusiasm, the still-ailing economy, persistent high unemployment among blacks, new state voting laws and limited growth in the African American population could help discourage turnout.
"We achieved a high-water mark in America in 2008. For the first time, African Americans were at the table with white America" because the turnout of black voters was just 1.4 points below white voters, said Chanelle Hardy, senior vice president and executive director of the National Urban League Policy Institute. But, "because we achieved so much in 2008, we have to push even harder to meet those numbers.
"President Obama does not take a single vote or support from any community for granted and he is working to secure the same levels of support based on policies that give everyone a fair shot and the opportunity to succeed," said Clo Ewing of the Obama campaign. She cited the payroll tax, job training, education and health care reform as areas the president has worked hard to improve and noted that all these efforts benefit African Americans.
The campaign for likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney, said he would compete for black votes.
Tara Wall, a spokeswoman for Romney's campaign, said he is committed to competing in the black community, despite the odds. She said Romney acknowledges he won't get a majority of black voters' support, but recognizes Obama can't count on the margins he once enjoyed. "Every percentage point that we chip away from President Obama counts," Wall said.
The reality is that a number of other changes could affect the influence of the black vote, even if it does fall to 2004 levels. Increased turnout of Hispanic voters, who went heavily for Obama in 2008, or drops in turnout of conservative Republicans could conceivably offset a lower black-voter turnout.
The Urban League released its report ahead of the president's July 25 speech scheduled for opening day at its national convention in New Orleans, and a week after Obama's likely Republican rival Mitt Romney was booed at the NAACP's convention in Houston for saying, among other things, that he would repeal Obama's landmark health care law if he is elected.