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African-American early-voter turnout down; Obama sounds alarm bell

With President Barack Obama no longer on the ballot, African-American participation appears to be dropping in early voting in key swing states. Here at Betty's Soulfood Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where images of Obama appear on every wall, waitress Amanda Charlton, seen here on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, says she expects an increase in turnout because the customers she hears from are motivated by the desire to defeat Donald Trump.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
November 03, 2016 - 7:00 AM

FORT LAUDERDALE, United States - U.S. President Barack Obama has sounded the alarm bell about an apparent decline in black voter turnout in this election, pointing to early-voting data that's now prompting jitters for Democrats in key swing states.

Advance voting data shows a dip from the record-smashing participation in 2012 where African-Americans made history by surpassing whites in turnout percentage.

The president put the current situation bluntly. ''The African-American vote right now is not as solid as it needs to be," he said in a radio interview that aired Wednesday.

He described the conversations going on in the barber shops and beauty salons of black neighbourhoods — ''We love Barack, we especially love Michelle, and so it was exciting, and now we're not excited as much" — then urged voters to help cement his legacy by electing his preferred successor.

Betty's Soulfood Restaurant is the kind of place he's talking about.

In this popular African-American-run spot off the main Florida highway, it's impossible to ignore the affection for the first black president.

His likeness graces every wall: there's an Obama calendar, an Obama picture, a sketch of Obama with Martin Luther King Jr., and, peering out from behind the coffee-maker, an image of Obama in sunglasses.

Ask about Hillary Clinton, however, and the enthusiasm reaches its limits.

"There's a lot of apathy," says Roschell Franklin, a regular at Betty's front counter. "We'll have a nice turnout (for her) but I don't think it will be as it was with Obama." He sums it up in a few words: "High (turnout), but not as high."

That appears to be exactly what's happening in advance polls.

In Florida, the African-American share of advance voters is down about 10 per cent from this point in 2012. There's a similar phenomenon in North Carolina, compounded by Republican challenges to voter registration.

Obama's former Florida campaign director is still optimistic his party can win the state, and with it the presidency. On his blog, Steve Schale estimates the trendline among African-Americans, coupled with a surge in Latino voters, could put Democrats over the top. Furthermore, he says it's unreasonable to expect any successor to Obama would match the turnout for the first black president.

Latoya Hunter saw it coming.

The doctoral candidate and lecturer in political science at the University of Florida predicted last week, as advance polls opened, that there would be a turnout drop regardless of Obama's energetic drum-beating for Clinton.

''African-Americans understand that Clinton is not Obama,'' she said.

''And African-Americans largely do not trust Clinton and are largely still not excited about this election. I think the most significant driver of African-American turnout — outside of civic duty, of course — is to ensure a Donald Trump loss.''

Back at the restaurant, waitress Amanda Charlton doesn't flinch when asked why she expects a late jump in participation: Trump. "We don't want him in office." Indeed, so few of her customers support Trump, it's become a joke.

People roll their eyes and snicker when a client comes out as a Trump-backer, Charlton says, describing how she played a prank on one customer, pretending she'd vote Republican just to wind him up.

Others are perfectly serious about it.

At a nearby motorcycle rally of bikers for Trump, the one black person in attendance said she's knocking on doors for the Republican candidate.

''We do support Trump,'' says Lateresa Jones. ''We do not want it to be misunderstood that minorities or black Americans are not supporting Trump. Because we are."

Polls are wrong, she insists. But surveys show blacks overwhelmingly opposing Trump.

Many resent how he spent weeks fanning unfounded rumours that the president was born in Africa — which many viewed as having one sole purpose: winning the affection of racists. Now some say Trump's campaign is using coded language about blacks — urging supporters to watch for vote-rigging in so-called "inner cities."

At the restaurant counter, Franklin reflects on everyone he's talked to this election.

He has more time for that, given that he's semi-retired now. He's a former bail bondsman — which means that after a decade of tracking down fugitives, he can afford to skip the more dangerous cases.

''All of my friends are supporting Hillary,'' he says. ''I like her. I was gonna vote for her anyway, regardless (of who she faced)."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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