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By Tom Tobin September 4, 2007
SUMMARY: Seeking to convince New Hampshire Democrats that he would prevail against a Republican opponent, Barack Obama said his candidacy could "actually redraw the political map." Experts on turnout doubt it.

"I guarantee you African-American turnout, if I'm the nominee, goes up 30 percent around the country, minimum," he said in an Aug. 20, 2007, appearance in Concord, N.H. "Young people's percentage of the vote goes up 25-30 percent. So we're in a position to put states in play that haven't been in play since LBJ."

An attractive promise from any candidate, but the "ifs" are pretty big.

A analysis of all 31 GOP states from the 2004 presidential election finds that Obama could turn at least nine (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia) to the Democrats if, indeed, he triggered a 30 percent increase in turnout among both African-Americans and young people, ages 18 to 29.

But that's only if every one of those additional voters casts a ballot for him. Even then, he only squeaks by in most of those nine states.

Are Obama's claims credible? A 30 percent increase?

"I would probably estimate something lower, but I wouldn't put it out of the question,'' said David A. Bositis, an expert in black electoral politics and a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Bositis cites the historic nature of a major-party African-American candidate appearing on the ballot. He also notes that young voters have been turning out in larger numbers over the last two elections. A 2005 report by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement used U.S. Census surveys and exit polling to estimate that turnout among young voters increased from 42 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2004.

Bositis doubts Obama's predictions about black voters.

About 14-million African-Americans went to the polls in November 2004, according to the U.S. Census. A 30 percent increase would put that number at more than 18-million. That would translate to a black turnout close to 75 percent.

"That really is something of a stretch," Bositis said.

Bositis' own estimate of the groundswell for Obama: maybe a 20 percent increase in black voters and an increase of "10 percent at least" among young people.

To win the presidency, Bositis said, Obama "would have to turn a significant number of white (GOP) voters, and in the recent past that just hasn't happened" for Democratic candidates.

The candidate would need gains particularly among lower-income whites who tend to identify Republican, he said.

"I do think (Obama) would energize African-American voters," said Emory University professor Merle Black, an author and authority on the Southern electorate.

But, like Bositis, he concludes that "you'd still need a lot of white voters."

There's no way to know with any certainty, Black said. "A lot depends on the Republican candidate too."

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Our Sources

Obama says he can turn out black voters , USA Today/Associated Press,Aug. 20, 2007.

CNN National Exit Poll , November 2004.p> U.S. Census Bureau, State & County QuickFacts.

Interview: Merle Black, Asa G. Chandler Professor of Politics and Government at Emory University and co-author of Divided America: The Ferocious Power Struggle in American Politics. Interview: David A. Bositis, expert on national black electoral politics and senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Voting Patterns of Young People by Race and Ethnicity, 1988 to 2004, The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, May 2005.

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