Something very powerful and unexpected happened in the 2012 election that has not received the attention it deserves. It is the strange way in which voter suppression played out in states where oppressive state governments went over the top in their attempts to keep voters, especially voters of color, from the ballot boxes.
From removing legitimate voters from the rolls (making it impossible for churches to en masse get their members to the polls) to frightening would-be voters about what they might encounter if they dare show up at a polling site, these oppressive tactics were all designed to do one thing: minimize the number of votes cast by minority, elderly, and poor voters.
Voter Suppression Tactics
But a funny thing happened on the way to disenfranchisement. The plan backfired. In both Arizona and Ohio, despite the imposition of voter suppression tactics by the states’ leaders, including AZ Governor Jan Brewer and OH Secretary of State Jon Husted, minority voters increased their share of the voters. In Arizona, Latino voters who were the target of draconian measures by Brewer and others, increased their share of the voters from 16% in 2008 to 18% in 2012. And what’s more, they increased their support for the Democratic Presidential Candidate, Barack Obama, to 74%, up from 56% in 2008. In Ohio, African American voters who were subjected to a series of suppressive tactics by Secretary of State Husted increased their share of the voters from 11% in 2008 to 15% in 2012. Their incredibly high support for President Obama held, with 96% of them voting for Obama in 2012.
But wait! Wasn’t the conventional wisdom that the opposite was supposed to happen? They call it suppression for a reason, don’t they?
Most traditional pollsters concluded at the time, and accordingly advised their clients, that mentioning the barriers that minority and disadvantaged voters would face at the polls in 2012 was a bad idea. It would just frighten the timid people of color, driving them further away from the polls.
But some of us know that if there is one thing that Blacks and Latinos are not, it’s timid. After conducting and analyzing polls of Latinos and Blacks on a range of issues related to their sense of racial and ethnic identity and pride, and their sense of the hostility being directed at them from the Right Wing, savvy political operatives and strategists who know and understand these communities of voters charted a different course, expensive pollsters and their bad advice be damned.
In Arizona, PAC+ worked with the Latino communications shop Chambers Lopez Strategies to design and run ads targeting Latinos with a message about the walls, both figurative and literal, that the Right Wing and its man, Romney, would build in our communities. In the weeks preceding the election, we worked with PresentePAC+ to create another ad campaign aimed at Latino voters. It began with the words, “Warning! Republicans like Jan Brewer, Joe Arpaio, and Mitt Romney are trying to steal your vote,” and closed with the reassurance that, “Together, juntos, we can stop them!” The ad went on to outline what things every voter should take along to the polls to help ensure that their votes were counted.
With the recent Supreme Court decision attacking the Voting Rights Act, we can expect the conservative assault on voting rights to continue apace. As we gear up for the upcoming races in 2014, we would be wise to acknowledge that a carefully crafted counter message urging resistance to the Right Wing’s efforts to keep us down can actually help turn out more voters than the primary message can suppress.
In a state like Texas, 71% of Latinos surveyed by us believe that anti-Latino discrimination is a problem, with over a third saying it is a big problem. In this social context, the likely Republican candidate for governor, Greg Abbott, is leading the charge to impose a voter ID law on the citizenry. 59% of Latinos polled by us reported that if they knew someone was trying to keep them from voting, they would be more likely to cast a vote. Can we convince the mainstream strategists to adopt a strategy that confronts voter suppression head on? Together, Juntos, We Can!