Analysis highlights McConnell's misstated facts amid his fumble on Black voters

Analysis highlights McConnell's misstated facts amid his fumble on Black voters
Mitch McConnell/Shutterstock
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) found himself at the center of controversy several days ago when he suggested that Black voters were not Americans. Now, the so-called facts that led to his assessment are also being scrutinized.

A new Washington Post analysis written by Glenn Kessler breaks down why the top-ranking Republican's remarks and the data he used to arrive at his conclusion were relatively inaccurate. Amid growing controversy, McConnell conducted an interview to offer clarity on his remarks. But Kessler noted that the more interesting aspect of McConnell's interview centers on his "factual dexterity" as a result of him playing "sleight of hand with the facts."

Starting with the facts, Kessler laid out the significance of the Freedom to Vote Act which would trump the vast majority of state laws and place new nationwide standards on critical election components such as universal rules for voter identification, early voting, and mail-in ballots.

However, Republicans have opposed the legislation arguing that it is unnecessary and could help Democrats tilt elections in their favor. McConnell initially aimed to point out that Black voter turnout has not waned in recent years.

But Kessler has explained why McConnell's interpretation was flawed as he presented a timeline of Black voter turnout over the last decade. "Here’s the trick McConnell is playing," Kessler wrote. "He’s comparing Black turnout to overall turnout. These are not comparable data sets."

The breakdown McConnell offered to back his claims also failed to convey the message he'd hoped.

"On the face of it, his comment would appear only slightly overstated," Kessler wrote. "A McConnell spokesman directed us to census data showing that Black turnout was relatively close to overall turnout in recent elections. That’s not “just as high” as McConnell claimed, but maybe it’s close enough for government work?"

  • 2020: Total turnout 66.8 percent, Black turnout 62.6 percent
  • 2018: Total turnout 53.4 percent, Black turnout 51.5 percent
  • 2016: Total turnout 61.4 percent, Black turnout 59.4 percent
  • 2014: Total turnout 41.9 percent, Black turnout 39.7 percent
To support his argument, Kessler included a quote from Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida who conducts research on census data and voter turnout. In an email, McDonald also confirmed McConnell was wrong in his assessment. Per The Post, McDonald claims "it is more appropriate to measure Black turnout against White turnout."

“This statement is false, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement,” McDonald wrote in an email. “Non-Hispanic African Americans currently have lower turnout rates than non-Hispanic Whites in the 2020 and 2016 elections.”

According to McConnell's spokesperson, the lawmaker's staff had conducted research on data from the Current Population Survey. Based on their findings, "the states affected by the Voting Rights Act, the gap between Black and White turnout was much smaller than the national average." They also included a number of examples below:

  • Alabama: Black turnout was above White turnout in 60 percent of the past five elections, and averaged just 0.64 percent less than White turnout.
  • Georgia: Black turnout below White turnout by 1.15 percent.
  • Mississippi: Black turnout has been above White turnout for five consecutive elections and on average is 5.9 percent higher.
  • Louisiana: Black turnout on average is 1.2 percent below White turnout.
  • South Carolina: Black turnout on average is 0.18 percent below White turnout.

In a recent statement, McConnell’s spokesman wrote: “The successes in former preclearance states post-Shelby County is weighed down with states like Oregon, a deep blue state which mails every voter a ballot and has Black turnout 28.5% below white turnout; Colorado, a blue state which has a 18.2% delta with the same voting systems as Oregon; Washington, with a 21.3% average delta between white turnout and black turnout; and Massachusetts, which had the worst Black voter turnout in the country."

Kessler went on to dismantle that claim, as well. "But there’s a catch," Kessler noted. "Apparently, Black voters in the South are more likely to respond to the census voting questions than those outside the South. That results in a lot of missing data — and the Census Bureau has chosen to count the missing data as 'did not vote.'"

“When you remove the missing data, the comparison turnout between the South and non-South changes, and between Whites and non-Whites in Southern states,” said McDonald, from the University of Florida. “For some reason, Massachusetts has one of the largest African-American nonresponse rates.”

In areas with a lower percentage of Black voters, Kessler also argues that the estimates are "unreliable." A Census Bureau spokesperson has also shed light on the flaw.

“If a respondent does not respond to our question of whether they voted, then we do not consider them to have voted. In other words, if they have no response, we do not consider them to have voted. We calculate voters as those who report voting, and nonvoters as those who report not voting,” the spokesperson said.

“Data users should adjust their analysis to account for the fact that we do not exclude non-respondents from the voting-age population and that we do not know whether non-respondents voted or did not vote.”

According to Kessler, McConnell's latest blunder has earned him two Pinocchios.

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