Home > Black American History > The Maturation of the Hip-Hop Vote

The Maturation of the Hip-Hop Vote

This is a reprint of an article written in 2008 after the Presidential election.

Black people in America have a long history of being marginalized and muted by the larger society.  Often screaming to be acknowledged but rarely heard, many blacks had given up on the political system, believing that it was never intended to represent people of African descent. 

 The power elite, now more than ever, rules America.  Power rests in the hands of a small group of individuals in society.  Most Americans, regardless of color, do not have access to the power network and are therefore among the powerless.  African-Americans have never been allowed access to the power structure of America.

 When it came to gaining the right to vote, Blacks did not have a friend in “The Great Emancipator.”  Even as the Civil War was ending and President Lincoln was developing his Reconstruction plan, his plan excluded Blacks from participation in voting and holding office.  Lincoln stated plainly that he was not in favor of giving Blacks citizenship.  Even in Lincoln’s final speech, given four days before his death, Lincoln said that he preferred that only the very intelligent and the Union soldiers who were Black should be given the right to vote.

 Things looked as though they were making a promising turn for African-Americans in the political arena during the Reconstruction era.  With the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed Blacks the right to vote, Blacks began the process of political mobilization to take advantage of their newly granted right to enfranchisement.  Under federal military occupation of the South over 700,000 Blacks were added to the voting rolls.  This allowed numerous African-Americans to be elected Senators and Representatives.  The “Force Bills” of 1870-71 provided for federal troops to protect Black voters at the polls.   

 Even during this unprecedented time of enfranchisement for Blacks, many obstacles were placed in their path to voting rights. Clandestine white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the White Brotherhood, the Pale Faces, and the Knights of the White Camellia used fear and intimidation to keep African-Americans from voting.  In addition, Black Codes were enacted to restrict African-American civil rights.  The Black Codes reduced Blacks to a state of pseudo-freedom.  With the Black Codes firmly entrenched in the South, Blacks were bound to a life without political rights and restricted social and legal possibilities.   

 The progressive times unfortunately did not last long.  By 1876, Black supporters in Congress, most notably Senator Charles Sumner and Representative Thaddeus Stevens, had passed away leaving a vacuum of civil rights champions within the Republican Party to support the rights of Black people.  Shortly afterwards, the Republican Party began to abandon African-Americans.  The election of 1876, between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden, provided the perfect opportunity for the party to sever its ties and they took full advantage of it.  The results of the election had Democrat Samuel J. Tilden winning the popular vote, but there were disputes over the accuracy of electoral votes several southern and western states.  In 1877, in order to settle the dispute over who would be the new American president, the two parties agreed upon the Compromise of 1877. 

 In the Compromise, Blacks were the only ones who were compromised.  Hayes would be awarded the presidency and in return, federal troops would be withdrawn from the South and Southerners would be awarded more federal jobs.  Hayes obliged to the compromise, which effectively ended military protection for Blacks in the South and returned the Southern Blacks to a state of virtual slavery.      

 The presidential election of 1932 marked the first time that African-Americans overwhelmingly decided to jump party lines and voted for Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt instead of their traditional backing of the Republican Party.  This was seen as a major shift in political ideology because since the Civil War, Blacks had seen the Republican Party as the emancipation party and they remained loyal to the memory of the years gone past.  In truth however, after the Compromise of 1877 Blacks did not have a political party that had their best interest in mind.  The Republican Party embraced a new agenda, while the Democrats would like nothing more than to keep their old agenda, which was to strip Blacks of their rights and keep them in a state of bondage.  In backing Roosevelt, African-Americans pledged a “vote for bread and butter instead of for the memory of Abraham Lincoln.” 

 Before the 2008 Election, it was easy to argue that utilizing the right to vote does not improve the status of Blacks in American society because the candidates of the major political parties do not share African-Americans needs and interests at heart.  Both parties have pimped Black votes in the past without benefiting the Black community in the end.  The trail of broken promises has left its footprints on the concrete leading out of the Black community.

 With the prospect of having an African-American president, black voters turned out in record numbers at the polls.  According to a CNN Exit Poll for 2008, Black voters comprised 13 percent of turnout on Election Day.  Obama won 96 percent of the Black vote.

 Obama’s ability to connect with young voters was a significant asset in his campaign.    Obama utilized social networking websites to attract young voters.  He attracted two million “friends” on Facebook, and he drew 90 million viewers to his video presentations on YouTube. 

 There were 6.3 million African-American citizens and 5.6 million citizens age 18-29 during the election.  According to CIRCLE, the leading monitor of youth voting trends in the United States, of the 44 million total citizens 18-29 years old in the US, around 23 million voted on November 4, an increase of around 3.4 million as compared with 2004. Of that 23 million, 16 million of them voted for Obama.  At least 52 percent of eligible voters under 30 participated in the election, up from 48 percent in 2004.  In addition, forty-five percent of 18-to-29 years-old African-American voters and 61 percent of 18-to-29 year-old Latino voters cast their ballots for the first time during the election. 

 Hip-Hop proved it had the ability to influence people to register to vote during the 2004 election.    P-Diddy (Citizen’s Change) and Russell Simmons (Hip-Hop Summit) utilized their influence to urge young Americans to vote.  The Vote or Die campaign helped to draw an increase of 4.6 million 18-30 year old voters in 2004.  More than 1.2 million young people registered to vote through the Rock the Vote campaign.  The Hip-Hop Caucus held massive voter registration drives.  All of these organizations helped to increase the youth vote in that election.

 Hip-Hop came out in mass support for Obama during the 2008 election.  Artists such as Common, Jay-Z, Nas, Kayne West, T.I., and Bow Wow, as well as record executives Russell Simmons, P-Diddy, and Kevin Liles all publicly endorsed Obama.  The election also marked the first time rap artists Young Jeezy, Busta Rhymes, Nas, Juelz Santana, Jin, Soulja Boy Tell’em, T.I. and Maino casted their vote.

 The social significance of the Hip-Hop generation’s voter turnout is enormous.  For the first time, young people have definitive proof that their vote counts and the knowledge of this fact can help to galvanize the youth vote for future elections.  Black people also have the statistics that prove that when we come out in masses to vote, we can make a difference.  Future Presidential candidates will have to learn to communicate and connect with the youth voters utilizing the numerous technological resources that young people use in their daily lives.  Meanwhile, the 2008 election has also marked the coming-of-age of the Hip-Hop vote, and if we can band together in a political coalition, we can force future candidates to address the needs of our community in their campaign agenda.

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