BLACKS AND THE GOP
Author Jonetta Rose Burns has a piece in today’s WaPo entitled, “Black Votes — No GOP Fantasy.”
Believing it has cornered the market on black voters, the Democratic Party may want to dismiss the GOP’s announced goal of winning 25 percent of the African American vote in 2004. Democratic leaders may be correct in saying the feat can’t be achieved in time for this year’s presidential election. But the current political dynamics in black America do not bode well for the future; the Democratic Party could lose its good thing.
Consider: There has been a measurable rightward shift in the black electorate. In 2002 the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a liberal think tank, asked black respondents in its national survey to identify themselves as either Democrats, independents or Republicans. Although 63 percent claimed to be Democrats, the number was down from 74 percent in 2000. The decrease occurred in nearly every age group, including among respondents 65 and older (where the drop was from 82 percent to 75 percent). There was a significant increase in those calling themselves independents, especially between the ages of 26 and 35. Respondents identifying themselves as Republicans also increased: Between ages 26 and 35, the share tripled, going from 5 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2002.
None of this is coincidental. More African Americans now have college degrees, ushering them into the middle class, shifting their values and priorities while prompting them to abandon the “blacks-as-victims” theology. Many low-income blacks have gained an appreciation for the opportunities provided by the free enterprise system and are rejecting the notion of government as savior. Meanwhile, there has been an emergence of a new generation of African Americans that exists in a multiracial, crossover world.
There is one more reason for the changes in affiliations: Some African Americans have accused the Democratic Party of practicing “plantation politics.” They say that although blacks repeatedly are depended on to keep the party in elected office, African Americans often are overlooked for key leadership posts.
This growing dissatisfaction, coupled with demographic and philosophical changes, has translated into black support for selected Republican candidates. In the California recall election, Arnold Schwarzenegger won 17 percent of the African American vote. Michael Bloomberg won 22 percent of the black vote in his successful New York mayoral bid.
While all of this is true–as are some other demographic changes noted later in the piece–I’m rather skeptical. It’s perfectly conceivable to me that African Americans will gradually become more Republican as more and more come to think of themselves as middle class, but there’s little evidence that that has happened yet. Schwarzenegger and Bloomberg are only nominal Republicans. Indeed, Bloomberg was literally a Democrat who ran on the GOP ticket because he didn’t have much shot at the Democratic nomination. Schwarzenegger is Republican on fiscal and security issues, but very liberal on social issues. Neither are useful barometers for gauging sentiment toward Republicans, unless we believe they are the direction the GOP is heading.