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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Lemon says:

    Be skeptical but you overlook the polling data indicators in favore of the “Arnold-Bloomberg index.” Blacks are trending more conservative and some social science research is finding that this is a bit more pronounced among younger African-Americans. Plus, there seems to be a bit of a changing of the guard in terms of leadership in the black community with a great deal more diversity than before.

    One interesting study would be to see how African-American soldiers and their families are “feeling” about the upcoming election. The current narrative among the old Af-Am leadership is that they are being disproportionately exploited by the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. However, I’m not sure that those soldiers and families necessarily see it that way. And I would bet that this sub-group has a higher propesnsity to vote than do non enlisted soldiers.

  2. John Lemon says:

    Correction to the last sentence — “… than Af-Am people not in the military.” I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that last sentence in the post above.

    By the way, if an African-American wants to move quickly up the ranks of a party and become involved in running for public office, they should consider the GOP as I know for a fact that there is an active willingness to bring them into the fold and make them part of the party — contrary to what any Dems may say. The nation has changed alot since 1950 in terms of race relations, and the argument that the GOP’s “Southern Strategy” relies on race-baiting is becoming an increasingly untenable one to hold. If the Dems keep viewing race relations in terms of the 1950s, and if they keep on believing that the Southern GOP is basically the Southern Democrats of old,* they will be in for a rude awakening in the next decade.

    * Remember, the 1964 Civil Rights Act got more support from the GOP than from Dems.

  3. I hate to point this out, but a lot of the southern GOP is the modern descendant of the old southern Democrats, particularly in the Deep South. Generational replacement will eventually give rise to a cadre of the southern GOP that isn’t comprised of ex-Democrats, but that hasn’t really happened yet.

    That being said, Republicans will probably attract more black support over time as the Helms-Lott generation become less relevant in favor of the Frist generation. But the Republicans have yet to craft a platform that can broadly appeal to both their base and African Americans, due to their diametrically opposed views of the role of government in society–despite the historical experience of blacks that should teach a great deal more skepticism about the benevolence of government than they perceive.

  4. John Lemon says:

    Assuming the average age of a Southern “old Democrat” politician in 1970 was 30 years old,* that would make the average “old Dem/new GOP” politician 63 years old. If you want, up this to 1980 and subtract 10 years from the average.

    Looking at the average age of GOP politicians in the South (including the deep South), I would argue that the transition is already underway.

    * Given that one needs time to work through the party ranks, this is not that realistic of an assumption but one that favors Chris’s argument. Upping the average age assumption to 40 would mean that these pols are 60 or 70 depending on when you think the transition begins.