Getting Out the White Vote

Peter Kirsanow has an interesting analysis of the racial breakdown of the vote this season:

Kerry’s late-summer poll numbers among blacks hovered around 84 percent. By early October, that percentage had fallen to 74 percent. In the last several days, the percentages have slipped further. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies poll puts Kerry’s black support at 69 percent. A Pew Research poll gives Kerry 70 percent of the black vote. Kerry’s black poll numbers are ominously lower than those for Al Gore whose share of the black vote in 2000 is estimated to have been 92 percent. The good news for Senator Kerry is that in mid-October 2000, Gore’s black poll numbers were around 75 percent — 17 points lower than his ultimate share. If Kerry can add another 17 points as Gore did, he will still garner a healthy 86-87 percent of the black vote.

That Bush is making some inroads–even if just barely–into the black vote is obviously a good thing. Even if one doesn’t support Bush, having the second largest racial group voting as a monolith is simply bad for the country. What’s really amazing, though, is the flip side of the statistic, upon which almost no one remarks:

The bad news for Kerry is that even 86-87 percent of the black vote won’t be enough to win on November 2. Since 1968, the Democrat presidential candidate’s share of the non-black vote has typically crested at no higher than 39 percent.

That the dominant racial group–which is by no means cohesive or even one that thinks of itself as existing–has not voted less than 61 percent Republican in the last nine elections–going on ten–is just astounding. We have, after all, elected a Democrat in three of those (Carter in 1976 and Clinton in 1992 and 1996) and a Democrat got the majority of the popular vote in a fifth (Gore in 2000).

There’s nothing in current polling data that suggests Kerry will do any better. That leaves Kerry with little margin for error when it comes to the black vote. It’s estimated that more than eleven million blacks voted in 2000. Al Gore received approximately ten million black votes. A six-point decrease from that total, even without a corresponding shift to George W. Bush, means about 600,000 fewer votes for John Kerry nationwide. In states with large black populations like the swing states of Ohio and Florida, that would mean a drop of about 25,000 and 50,000 votes, respectively.

More than enough to swing the election–conceivably by a factor of ten.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, Race and Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark J says:

    Blacks are actually the third largest racial group if you don’t lump Hispanics in with Whites.

    I think the drop in Black support for democrats is great news for this country. Eschewing the party of entitlement either means that Blacks are starting to prosper, or that the realize that relying on the government for their needs is a losing strategy.

  2. Eschewing the party of entitlement either means that Blacks are starting to prosper, or that the realize that relying on the government for their needs is a losing strategy.

    How racist!

    Anyone relying on the government for their needs is pretty much dead. Have you ever been to the Department of Motor Vehicles? I’ve been in the “system” (Medicaid) and I can say that you can neither rely on them or come to need them.

    Of course, this is what I expect from a OTB comment’r. It’s a common misconception that Democrats want everyone to live off the gov’t while Republicans stand for the right and holy path.

    Federal welfare reform? Clinton!

    Basically it comes down to this however. Republicans argue that welfare isn’t needed and anyone who can’t ‘make it’ is worthless. Democrats know that there is a real world outside the Beltway and you can’t make humanity decisions based on budgets.

    You’d rather see them die or kill another poor person. I’d rather see them eat.

    You can argue that Democrats want Blacks to be poor and reliant on the government but I’ve argued against that so many times it’s gotten old. I’ve won every single one of those arguments, I’ll win this one as well.

    Please, let’s not forget the party who is inherently racist… the party of Strom Thurmond, James Hart and the rest

  3. Attila Girl says:

    Federal welfare reform? Clinton!

    That’s right. He did sign that bill, once Newt Gingrich and the GOP legislature had forced it upon him. You are completely correct.

  4. Attila Girl says:

    BTW, James, are you dividing the poppulation into all white/black? Let’s not forget Asians and people of mixed race (which I think/hope is most of us by now).

  5. legion says:

    “Even if one doesn’t support Bush, having the second largest racial group voting as a monolith is simply bad for the country.”

    Ummm… maybe alienating, railroading, and generally ignoring (except in election years) the second (actually third) largest racial group is _also_ bad for the country…

    For all the occasional talk of a “big tent”, the GOP is the party of conservatism. Usually fiscal, but always social. That means maintaining the status quo. In other words, maybe there’s a _reason_ blacks don’t vote much for the GOP, the party of rich white dudes.

    Or, you could just “blame the victims” for not seeing the wisdom of supporting the system that keeps people like you and me from worrying where our next meals will come from…

    Yeah, I know, that’s a bit shrill. But the tone in this posting really sets off my sanctimony sensors.

  6. LJD says:

    I am deeply offended.

    I am not white…

    I am a Caucasian American.

  7. Iceman 1955 says:

    How Racist?

    Explain to me how making an observation becomes racist? There are more and more minorities that realize that after 40 years of listening to people like Ted Kennedy, Jessie Jackson and other self proclaimed “leaders” have come to the conclusion that they are not helping anyone but themselves. How long can someone keep telling people to follow them and believe in them and never produce? Kerry has been saying its time for a fresh start at all his rallies. Glad to see more and more minorities are listening to him and voting for GWB…