Democrats facing strong headwinds this election season have at least one reason for optimism, according to polling that found the party's large African-American voting bloc eager to stay involved even without Barack Obama on the ballot.
About two-thirds of black adults in four states say they are closely following news about the upcoming midterm elections, and between 74 percent and 80 percent say they are very likely to vote, according to the poll, conducted by the nonpartisan Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The organization surveyed 500 African-Americans in each state -- Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas and South Carolina -- all of which have Senate races in November.
How many of those voters follow through with their intentions will help determine if Democrats hold control of Congress. In many competitive congressional districts, blacks make up a quarter of the electorate, and they vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Their surge during Obama's 2008 victory is widely credited with helping sweep many down-ballot Democrats into office who might have otherwise lost.
David Bositis, a researcher at the institute who directed the poll, said turnout will surely be lower than the poll's findings. But he said the numbers suggest continued enthusiasm.
"I think the Obama election and the fact that there is an African-American president is something of a game-changer," he said. "African-Americans feel like they have a real investment in President Obama ... I think it's a major motivating factor."
The poll found that the economy and health care reform are the top two issues on black voters' minds heading into the midterm election.
Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University who specializes in African-American politics, voiced skepticism about the turnout figures and said it's too early to know just what voters will do.
"One of the things you have to realize with polls is that if you ask people if they're going to vote, people can misrepresent themselves," she said. "Nobody wants to look like a civic deadbeat."
She noted that overall turnout usually hovers around 40 percent of eligible voters in midterm elections. In the 2008 election, 62 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, the highest turnout in 40 years.
"Apart from mobilization happening, these aren't the types of elections that get people out to vote the way you would expect them to," Gillespie said.
The poll, which has a margin of error of 4 percentage points, was conducted last year between November 11 and December 1.
(This version CORRECTS eligible voter turnout figure to 40 percent rather than mid-30 percent.)