Faith-Based Initiatives and Black Votes
When George W. Bush proposed faith-based initiatives upon entering office, many observers characterized the program as a move to solidify his social-conservative base. It obviously was, of course. But, as the Los Angeles Times reports, it also had the effect of broadening African-American support:
Bishop Sedgwick Daniels, one of this city’s most prominent black pastors, supported Democrats in past presidential elections, backing Bill Clinton and Al Gore. This fall, however, the bishop’s broad face appeared on Republican Party fliers in the battleground state of Wisconsin, endorsing President Bush as the candidate who “shares our views.”
What changed? After Bush’s contested 2000 victory, Daniels felt the pull of a most powerful worldly force: a call from the White House. He conferred with top administration officials and had a visit in 2002 from the president himself. His church later received $1.5 million in federal funds through Bush’s initiative to support faith-based social services. Daniels’ political conversion, and similar transformations by black pastors across the nation, form a little-known chapter in the playbook of Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign Ã¢€” and may mark the beginning of a political realignment long sought by senior White House advisor Karl Rove and other GOP strategists.
Here’s the problematic part for the opposition:
Black religious leaders who backed Kerry said that, in Florida in particular, they had trouble recruiting fellow ministers to get out the vote for Democrats, despite simmering anger in the black community there over the disputed 2000 election. The Atlanta Rev. McDonald, who heads the Democratic-leaning African American Ministers Leadership Council, said that faith-based money played a part. “We had a real hard time organizing ministers in Florida, harder in 2004 than in 2000, because more money had been circulated,” McDonald said. “They just weren’t showing up at the meetings anymore.”
If Republicans get their way, it will be even harder in 2006. Already, they are laying intricate plans to encourage greater black migration to the GOP. As he prepares to step down this week as chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ed Gillespie says he will stay on as a consultant to the party specifically to recruit black voters. He predicts the GOP presidential nominee could win 30% of that constituency in 2008.
That prediction seems too high to me. Also, I should note that the Times depends primarily on basic statistics and anecdotes, not systematic examinations of faith-based initiatives. Though I can buy the general trend sketched out in the report, it would be nice if a social scientist actually tested the hypothesis.
Tangentially, I find this point disturbing:
Administration record-keeping has made it difficult to track where the faith-based money has gone. Data released last month by the White House, for example, indicate that more than $1 billion was distributed through faith-based programs in 2003. But the summary includes a caveat that it does not represent all grants, and it includes numerous grants to agencies that are actually secular and other groups that were receiving funds long before Bush entered office.
The potential for abuse is particularly troublesome since constitutional questions already surround the program. From a political standpoint, Republicans could find their outreach efforts hindered by perceptions of foul play. The administration ought to get its records in order.