Poll: Bush Doubles Support Among Blacks

Poll: Bush Doubles Support Among Blacks (AP)

President Bush has doubled his support among blacks in four years and Sen. John Kerry’s backing among the key Democratic voting bloc is down slightly from the support Al Gore won in 2000, according to a poll released Tuesday. The Democratic presidential nominee holds a nearly 4-to-1 margin over Bush in the poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based research group that focuses on issues concerning blacks. Bush got low marks for his handling of the war in Iraq and his overall job performance. The Republican incumbent did gain more support than in 2000 from those age 50 and older and those who consider themselves Christian conservatives. That helped the president narrow the still sizable gap with Kerry among blacks, who preferred the four-term Massachusetts senator over Bush, 69 percent to 18 percent. The group’s poll before the 2000 election found Gore with a 74 percent to 9 percent lead over Bush.

Polls differ on the level of support for Bush among blacks. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll in mid-September found that 80 percent of registered black voters backed Kerry while 7 percent supported Bush. Exit polls in 2000 showed Gore winning 90 percent of the black vote, with Bush at 9 percent — the lowest support for a Republican presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater garnered 6 percent in 1964. Michael Whouley, general election manager for the Democratic National Committee, said internal polling didn’t reflect the Joint Center’s results. “I think on Election Day you will see record numbers (of black voters) go to the polls and vote for John Kerry,” he said.

The Joint Center poll of 1,642 adults was conducted Sept. 15-Oct. 10, four days before the third and final presidential debate, and had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. The survey included two samples — a general population sample of 850 adults and one of 850 blacks. There were 58 black respondents whose answers were part of both samples.

While Kerry hopes to counter any erosion in support among blacks, he also needs a large turnout among black Democrats to win battleground states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The poll found Kerry receiving as much or more support than Gore among those age 18 to 25, those with less than a high school diploma and those making $60,000 or less. But Kerry had 49 percent support from black Christian conservatives, down from the 69 percent Gore enjoyed in 2000. Bush was at 36 percent among the group this year, more than tripling the 11 percent he got four years ago.

Republican officials say they are making an effort this year to reach out to the black community. Campaign aides have cited Bush’s support of school vouchers, public money that can be used to help pay private school tuition, and support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as issues that might win him more black votes.

I heard about this on C-SPAN radio yesterday but this is the first I’ve seen of it in print. On the one hand, it’s encouraging that there is movement here. On the other, I find it depressing that, despite the fact that we’re in the middle of a war and President Bush having a commanding lead on polling on that issue, the overwhelming majority of blacks continue to vote as if it’s still 1965.

Update (1120): Clarence Page has an interesting column on this poll.

Social conservatism is hardly new to us African-Americans, but in the past, our economic and political liberalism kept us voting for Democrats since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. This year, Karl Rove, Bush’s senior political adviser, urged the president to reach out to evangelicals and other social conservatives and that gesture appears to have paid off among blacks too. This outreach to black social conservatives may work particularly well with a candidate like Kerry, whose New England reserve varies widely in manner from President Bill Clinton, whose electric ability to connect with black crowds is legendary.

I suspect Bush’s high-level black Cabinet appointments–like Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice– make him more palatable among African-Americans, even among those who disagree with him on many social and economic issues. A little symbolism can go a long, long way.

Indeed. And it’s more than pure symbolism. It’s not only that having Powell and Rice (and Education Secretary Rod Page) in prominent positions signals that a glass ceiling has been removed but the fact that these people weren’t chosen primarily as tokens. Nothing says “equality” more than picking people for their resumes rather than their color.

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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 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.