Voter Hesitation | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Voter Hesitation

Black voters turn off instead of turn out, a new survey finds

Pittsburgh blacks believe that their vote counts -- they really do! And many of them are registered. But that hasn't translated to more blacks at the polls come election day, according to a survey released Nov. 10 by the Pittsburgh Transportation Equity Project, based in the Hill District.


After PTEP activists sat down with 150 people over 30 days recently in predominantly black neighborhoods in the East End (60 percent of respondents were black), PTEP research policy analyst Fred Brown says the survey found blacks skipping election day due to distrust of the political process and lack of knowledge of candidates, as well as some quality-of-life issues.


PTEP is known for lobbying legislators, voicing the concerns of blacks and the impoverished displeased with public transit cutbacks. Elected officials, the group believes, overlook the demographic PTEP represents because many of them don't vote. October's survey was PTEP's attempt to address the charge.


Recent elections don't lie: Whereas an estimated 30 percent of registered black voters pulled levers in the November 2002 election, a dismal 12 percent of blacks are estimated to have hit the booths for the May 2003 primaries. (It's too early for estimates on the black voter turnout for this November, but the overall turnout was 41.7 percent of registered voters -- a bit short of Allegheny County Elections Manager Mark Wolosik's pre-election prediction of 45 percent.)


PTEP found that, though 99 percent of their respondents were registered, only a tenth had actually voted in the most recent election -- and almost two-fifths didn't even know when the last election had occurred. On the other hand, an overwhelming majority of respondents believed that their vote would have some effect on law-making at both the local and federal levels. A little over half believed the ethnic composition of current politicians did not reflect the region. And City Councilor Sala Udin may be pleased to know that about half believe Pittsburgh could have a black mayor.


What will it take to improve voter turnout?


"People said they would vote if they had more knowledge about the politicians and if politicians would do the work they said they would do" in their campaigns, notes PTEP Executive Director Ayanna King. "But the fact of the matter is over two-thirds of us still ain't voting."


Major reasons for voter apathy, the survey found, were "a politician's main goal is re-election," "money is more important than votes," "politicians are liars and thieves" and "elections are fixed."


"The reasons people aren't voting are multiple. Mobility is part of that," King says. "But [when] the programs in place only address registration, it's like, OK, now they're registered, but are they voting?"


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