African-Americans and Hispanics are two important blocs in the Democratic voting coalition that helped elect President Obama in 2008, but will they turn out for Democratic House and Senate candidates in this fall's elections?
In his column for National Journal this week, elections guru Charlie Cook writes about the economy and the midterms and makes a significant point: blacks and Hispanics have been hit disproportionately hard by the recession during the last two years, and subsequently they're less enthusiastic about voting in the November elections:
Among two of the most important groups in the Democratic coalition, things are much worse. The unemployment rate among African Americans was 12.6 percent the month President Obama was sworn into office but now stands at 15.6 percent. Among Hispanics, it was 9.7 percent when President Obama took over; it's 12.1 percent now. Among job seekers ages 16 to 19, unemployment has gone from 20.8 percent to 26.1 percent (unfortunately, there is no broader breakdown in unemployment numbers for young people). These are the groups that Democrats need to turn out in big numbers; little wonder that polling shows them with substantially lower interest levels than they had in November 2008. When Democrats lost their majorities in November 1994, the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent. When Republicans lost theirs in November 2006, unemployment was 4.5 percent. The latest Blue Chip Economic Indicators survey of 51 top economists reports a consensus unemployment forecast of the last quarter of this year to be 9.5 percent -- the most optimistic of the individual forecasters projected a 9.2 percent rate, the most pessimistic 9.9 percent. The consensus forecast for economic growth in the third quarter was that it would remain the same as has been reported for the second quarter, 2.4 percent, with the fourth quarter little better, 2.7 percent -- simply not enough to generate meaningful job growth.
The lack of a speedy economic recovery figures to hurt Democrats this fall, but the disproportionate jobless rates of African-Americans and Hispanics could make the economy's impact on Democratic majorities even more acute.
Two factors that may combat this effect: Obama's popularity among black voters and the intensity of the immigration debate. In December 2009, as Obama's approval ratings hovered around the 50% mark amid the messy health care debate, 9 in 10 African-Americans still approved of him. And after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, heated immigration rhetoric on the right and the Justice Department's lawsuit against Arizona may win points for Democrats among Hispanics, despite the fact that Congress will almost certainly not be able to pass comprehensive immigration reform before next year's session.