Hillary Drew the Lowest Turnout Boston’s Black Neighborhoods Have Seen in Twenty Years

by Patrick Brennan

I’m not sure where we stand in the just-how-awful-a-candidate-was-Hillary debate, but I thought this was a striking finding from two keen observers of Boston politics, Larry DiCara and James Sutherland (from Commonwealth magazine):

The most severe declines in [2016] voter turnout were seen in the heart of Boston’s black community: Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan.

The turnout decline in Boston’s black community cannot solely be attributed to the fact that Barack Obama was not on the ballot, although surely this might have played a role. Since the 2000 presidential election, Boston’s Ward 12 (Roxbury) has averaged a turnout rate of 65 percent, with a high of 68.5 percent in 2000. Meanwhile, Ward 14 (parts of Dorchester and Mattapan) has averaged a turnout rate of 63.8 percent and peaked in 2000 at 66.6 percent. In 2016, turnout in these two [predominantly black] wards was 57.7 percent and 59.1 percent, respectively, their lowest rates this century. The Boston precincts that saw the greatest decline in voter turnout from 2012 were also the precincts that supported Hillary Clinton by the greatest margins. These patterns are not dissimilar to those seen in Detroit and Milwaukee, two cities with large African-American populations in states that swung to the Republican Party this cycle.

In Milwaukee, as well as many other cities, black voters were disproportionately impacted by new state laws that severely restricted access to the voting booth. Without polling data, analyzing demographic voting trends is an imperfect exercise. However, we think it is fair to conclude that large segments of the Boston’s black community expressed their discontent with the candidates on the ballot by not voting.

This conclusion resonates with, as the authors say, the numbers that came out of Milwaukee, which were fleshed out in a striking New York Times piece:

Of [Milwaukee]’s 15 council districts, the decline in turnout from 2012 to 2016 in the five poorest was consistently much greater than the drop seen in more prosperous areas — accounting for half of the overall decline in turnout citywide.

The biggest drop was here in District 15, a stretch of fading wooden homes, sandwich shops and fast-food restaurants that is 84 percent black. In this district, voter turnout declined by 19.5 percent from 2012 figures, according to Neil Albrecht, executive director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission. It is home to some of Milwaukee’s poorest residents and, according to a 2016 documentary, “Milwaukee 53206,” has one of the nation’s highest per-capita incarceration rates.

The piece goes on to depict why residents themselves say they didn’t turn out. It is framed a few times as dissatisfaction with both candidates, but in a reliably Democratic neighborhood, that’s really just saying Hillary was the problem. There are a couple hints in there as well, though, that poor neighborhoods either did not discount Trump entirely, or are finally growing dissatisfied with Democratic rule.

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