On the 'Black Vote'

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Annie, Jan 5, 2004.

  1. Annie

    Annie Diamond Member

    Nov 22, 2003
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    Can extrapolate to Hispanics too: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A50818-2004Jan2.html

    Black Votes -- No GOP Fantasy

    By Jonetta Rose Barras

    Sunday, January 4, 2004; Page B07

    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.

    Further, the individuals whom African Americans elect from their own communities are less likely to fit the model of "old guard" civil rights leader or to hew to the far left wing of the party. Rather, the new leaders, exemplified by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), are centrists, advancing what some might call a cross-dressing agenda that includes conservative staples of education choice and family values. Interestingly, these individuals are not just the darlings of the younger generation; they also have attracted older African American voters.

    The flexibility of the new generation of black leaders and the growing population of black independent voters has meant the development of unprecedented alliances with Republicans and conservatives. Davis, hoping to address the issue of affordable housing in his district, co-sponsored legislation with none other than Florida's Rep. Katherine Harris -- the former secretary of state whom many Democrats blame for their 2000 presidential defeat. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) wasn't shy about joining forces with Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) when advocating changes in Social Security.

    This budding transformation of black America has been underreported. It does appear, however, that Republicans have been paying close attention. They know what Democratic pollster Ron Lester knows: "Black political leadership is trending toward the Harold Fords and Artur Davises." In the short term, the Democratic Party probably can ignore the Republicans' planned 2004 hunt, especially given the animus of black voters toward President Bush. But Republicans understand foundation-building. Back in 1994, in a spectacular drubbing of Democrats in the House, conservatives laid the groundwork for the current political trifecta of a Republican-controlled House, Senate and White House.

    If Democrats want to avoid an erosion of their African American base, they can start by opening the door for more and younger blacks to assume leadership posts, and by abandoning the outdated left-wing politics they seem intent on playing. Most important, they can stop navel-gazing and do what Republicans are doing: Pay attention to the evolving African American electorate.

    Jonetta Rose Barras is author of "The Last of the Black Emperors: The Hollow Comeback of Marion Barry in the Age of New Black Leaders."

    © 2004 The Washington Post Company

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