With less than a month to go before the presidential election, attention is being focused on the glaring disparity in the woeful voter participation rates of black men compared to black women and whites.
Even in 2008 during the first run of Barack Obama, black men voted at far lower rates than everybody else. In the state of Georgia, if black men had voted at the same rate as black women, there would have been another 70,000 votes, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In fact, black women voted at a higher rate than everybody else (80 percent of black women, 78 percent of white women, 76 percent of white men and 70 percent of black men).
Since Republican John McCain won Georgia by more than 200,000 votes, those additional votes from black men wouldn’t have changed the outcome. But they point to a serious problem.
When President Obama looks to the black community to help him win re-election, he is largely dependent on black women to put him over the top. But on the flip side, if higher numbers of black men show up to the polls, Obama’s re-election will be made much easier.
Today is the last day in Georgia that individuals can register to vote in the Nov. 6 election that is four weeks away. According to the Georgia Secretary of State, only 63 percent of eligible black men are registered to vote in the state, compared to 76 percent of black women and 75 percent of whites. In raw numbers, there are 1.03 million black women registered, compared to 745,766 black males—and 1.88 million white females and 1.67 million white males. (The raw numbers reveal that even among whites, there is a gender gap between white female and white male participation—which is good news for President Obama, since he holds such a large lead over Romney among women voters.)
The AJC attempted to answer the crucial question: Why do black males lag so far behind everyone else in voter participation rates?
“The explanation for the disparity in voting between black men and women is complicated. But for many black Georgia men who do vote, no explanation is sufficient,” the AJC wrote.
“There was a struggle to just get the opportunity to participate and make a change in the way you live and the your families live,” Rod Harris, 39, of Atlanta, told the paper. “It’s my duty as an African-American male to vote, to participate.”
Instead of “complaining,” Harris said, “I vote to make a difference.”
Decario Jeffery, 19, from Atlanta, actually told the AJC that he wasn’t sure how old you have to be to vote.
Nancy Flake Johnson, president of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, said that education makes a big difference—educated people tend to vote more frequently, and there is a gap in educational attainment between black men and black women.
Johnson also said there were “disproportionately high” incarceration rates among black men, who are 3.3 times more likely than whites to end up behind bars in Georgia.
Convicted felons in Georgia regain the right to vote after they have completed their entire sentences, including probation or parole—something many black men apparently aren’t aware of.
“A lot of black men think they’ve lost their right to vote,” Johnson told the AJC.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, Missouri, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was about as blunt as possible during a speech last month when he said African Americans who don’t vote “ought to give us their color back.”
“It’s is an insult to the ancestors and the people who brought us to where we are right now,” he said.
Morehouse College Professor Hasan Crockett said his research shows that peer groups have a stronger influence over young black men than they do with other segments of the population. So if a young black man is surrounded by friends and associates who don’t vote, who don’t feel invested in the process, they are likely to do the same.