The WRAL poll that said only 87 per cent of African American voters supported President Obama was as silly as the stories in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, PBS News Hour and NPR, among others, that asserted that black voters in North Carolina were deserting the president over the marriage equality issue. James Protzman was mistaken, too, that the Times story cut to the heart of the election in North Carolina. All of these narratives were rooted merely in what the authors "knew" that they knew without actually doing real research; the poll, of course, did involve research--really badly flawed research. I will never even bother to read another WRAL poll.
The real story
Shrewd politicos in North Carolina knew certain things. For example, African American registration was much higher than in 2008. It certainly looked like turnout would be up, too, and it was. Early voting quickly made it clear that this would be the case; as I called around to check with friends about how things were going, everyone noted the long lines at early voting sites, lines that were sometimes nearly all-black and nearly always heavily black. To go to such places and walk up the line saying hello to people was to realize that none of these people were standing in line to vote for Mitt Romney.
But the media reported that the President was in danger of losing significant support among black voters, when those of us working in the trenches every day in these communities knew full well that was not true. In the end, as I said quite awhile ago, it appears that the President had more support among black voters than in 2008, which was visible from that distance. But on this particular story it appeared to me that neither WRAL nor the New York Times nor the Christian Science Monitor nor the PBS News Hour nor NPR news reporters checked certain obvious things before writing these lookalike stories about the President's loss of support in black communities.
Precinct returns from all-white precincts and all-black precincts on the Amendment vote; the number and especially the stature of the African American ministers involved are two things that spring to mind. More black preachers spoke out against the Amendment than for it and the ones who did support the Amendment most loudly were not the state's most respected or most able ministers; the "beat the Book and Holler" preachers like Patrick Wooden, who were not the sharpest tack in the box anyway, tended to be the loudest. The record level of African American voter registration was another clear, empirical indicator that never got noted to my knowledge. The PBS News Hour "proved" that blacks were moving away from the President by interviewing my friend Professor William Darity, who said he was not going to vote for President Obama, as if he was a representative African American in North Carolina instead of a brilliant and absolutely sui generis economist whose political views bear little resemblance to nearly all black voters.
The real news story was the historic alliance between the NAACP and the organized LGBT community well before the election. Rev. Dr. Barber's work in the African American community went almost uncovered by the press. Yet it was historic, widespread and effective; night after night, from one end of the state to the other, engaging people in a candid and substantive conversation that respected their beliefs but confronted their prejudices and reminded them of their values. At times he was at a different church every night. All of the press outlets above wrote stories without deep digging; how this historic shift came about it takes no reporting skills whatsoever to find someone at a Baptist Church who opposes marriage equality, but considerably more to learn enough about the dynamics in the largest and most loyal group within the Democratic Party, within which there is not a simple thumbs-up, thumbs-down consensus on marriage equality, but a response filled with nuances, with the consensus the most broad in agreement of who their enemies are and what the quality of their "Christian" commitment entails.
Did anyone report that Rev. Dr. Barber, with the help of seasoned NAACP leaders like Ms. Carolyn Coleman of Greensboro, managed to change the policy of the national NAACP, a shift that had been successfully resisted for years, even though some of the group's best minds--Julian Bond, for example--had advocated it. The conventional wisdom was that it was untouchable topic. Rev. Dr. Barber did that. I don't think anyone reported that, to my knowledge.
The New York Times, NPR, the PBS News Hour, the Christian Science Monitor and WRAL all got this one wrong, in some measure by working in an self-referential journalism echo chamber, where stories begat stories and the stories that got it going were not solid in the first instance. The WRAL poll turned out to have put an 87 where it should have put a 95 or 96, which is pretty far off. There wasn't a shift among black voters right at the end. This has been happening for many, many months. Everybody I asked about that just laughed in my face and said, oh, no, it's a lot more complicated than that, and don't worry about it, that ain't happening, nobody listens to Wooden and his dum-dum friends. The story was a truly historic one, and different than the one that all these media outlets "knew" was true, and yet the editors "knew" the story before it was reported somehow. I think that is worth pondering. I also think the story should still be told.