By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - High voter turnout among African Americans helped get President Barack Obama elected in 2008 but a black rights group fears even a small drop in turnout in the November election might cause him to lose or struggle in several key states.
Leaders of the National Urban League, a civil rights group, released a report on Tuesday that said although blacks voted overwhelmingly for the Democrat in 2008, if the number of African American voters drops even 5 percentage points this year it could tip the outcome in some vital states.
If that voter turnout rate returned to the 2004 election levels - 60 percent compared with nearly 65 percent in 2008 - the report estimated that Obama, the nation's first black president, would lose in North Carolina and would have a tough time in Ohio and Virginia.
"We wanted to point out that turnout makes a difference," said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. "And that African American turnout particularly, in a number of states, could make the ultimate difference."
Obama has a 6-point lead over his Republican rival Mitt Romney four months ahead of the November 6 election, a Reuters/Ipsos national poll showed last week.
A USA TODAY/Gallup poll of 12 swing states - including North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia - on July 8 showed the pair essentially tied as Obama had a narrow 2-point lead.
Chanelle Hardy, executive director of the National Urban League Policy Institute, said the analysis also showed that in 2008 more African Americans between 18 and 25 voted compared with whites of the same age group for the first time.
"That's just an amazing high water mark for democracy," she said. "Armed with that information we're in a strong position to tell each and every African American voter: 'Your vote does matter.'"
Morial said many political pundits often dismiss the importance of blacks because they voted overwhelmingly - about 95 percent - for Obama in 2008 over Republican John McCain.
"No one has really picked up on the idea that African American voters are part of the swing category," said Morial. "But it's not 'What percentage of African American voters will vote for the president?' - it's 'How many actually get to the polls and vote?'"
The group said it saw a connection between the unusually high black voter turnout in 2008 and tough new voter registration and vote identification requirements that have since been passed or proposed in dozens of U.S. states.
Conservative groups and Republican-led state legislatures that have proposed the new rules say they will help ensure fair voting and cut back on fraud.
Rights groups say the new rules would unfairly target groups like minorities and low-income voters. The Center for American Progress said in a report in April that as many as 25 percent of blacks do not possess a valid form of government-issued ID, compared with 11 percent on average for all races.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)