Those of them who do show up to vote Tuesday will largely vote for Clinton because they cannot fathom voting for the alternative. She just has to get enough of them out if she hopes to win. To do that, her campaign will have to do the hard work to make personal contact with these voters. And, at the end of the day, these types of activities --not the glitzy rallies and concerts -- are what drive up turnout.
At this critical moment in her campaign, Clinton and her team must take great care to address black Americans' concerns. For example, in the wake of police shootings and the emergence of Black Lives Matter, many young blacks are impatient with and intolerant of politicians who make campaign promises and then disappear after the votes are counted. She needs to persuade them of her sincere interest in their concerns, both now and beyond Election Day.
All of this has come into sharp focus as the election has tightened in the past few days, and as a new headline -- that fewer blacks are voting early -- has emerged. African-Americans, once the stalwart of early voting, have so far voted at lower rates than they did in 2012 in competitive states like Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Democratic campaigns are watching these numbers with quiet alarm, knowing that anemic black turnout can spell the difference between winning and losing elections.
A combination of factors contribute to the potential decline in black voter turnout. The absence of a black candidate like President Obama no doubt partly explains it, as does the fact that Democrats generally have not been as enthusiastic about this year's campaign as in years past. As November 8 approaches, I would urge observers to pay close attention to turnout rates across both age and racial groups, though, and redouble their efforts at get-out-the-vote operations.
That black turnout might be lower in 2016 has always been a possibility. While the Current Population Survey reported
record high black turnout in 2008 and 2012 -- black turnout even surpassed white turnout in 2012 -- observers have long wondered if turnout rates would recede when Barack Obama was no longer on the ballot.
Compounding the problem has been the general lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton's candidacy. In addition to perceptions that Clinton lacks the charisma of President Obama or her husband, her candidacy has failed to resonate fully among some segments of the black population.
To be sure, Donald Trump does not resonate either, but qualitative and quantitative reports point to the fact that young blacks in particular may not fully embrace Clinton as a candidate. Whether they view her as just another politician or believe that her support of crime policies in the 1990s led to the rise of a racially discriminatory police state, numerous measures indicate that Clinton has not captured the imagination of black voters in this election.
Recently, I teamed up with colleagues at The George Washington University to write a report
for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies based on survey data that they collected at the beginning of the general election cycle.
There were clear differences in how older and younger voters viewed this election. Black voters ages 18 to 29 were significantly less likely than their older counterparts to say that they definitely planned on voting, and more likely than their grandparents' generation to state that they did not plan on voting at all.
And among those who did indicate support for Hillary Clinton, there were generational divisions in how they rationalized their support. Black voters under 40 were more likely to say that they were voting against Trump, while black voters age 40 and older were more likely to frame their vote as a vote for Clinton.
Clinton is going to have to convince these skeptical constituents that it is worth their while to vote -- and to vote for her. She must make clear that her intentions of staying engaged with these communities after the election are genuine. Then, if she is elected, she will have to follow through on her promise to stay engaged and to be responsive.