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Kerry’s Desperate Push for Black Support

Yesterday, the Washington Times reported on Sen. Kerry’s renewed effort to drum up support among black voters. This follows on the heels of a recently released report (pdf file) by David A. Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which shows Kerry drawing only 69% of black voter support. The only thing more striking than this comparatively low figure is Bush’s 18% (no typo, folks), which is surprisingly high, given the anemic 8% of black votes he actually drew in 2000. Of blacks living in the South, where more than half of black Americans live, 14% gave Bush their support, compared with 72% for Kerry. 12% of this group is still undecided on the question.

What to make of this? Well, a few qualifiers are in order. (1) 11% of blacks expressed a preference for neither candidate (Nader polled 2%), which means many or most may still break for Kerry come November 2. I say “most” not only because history shows the challenger garnering the undecided vote by a 2:1 ratio over the incumbent, but also because the same survey in 2000 polled Gore at 74%, with 14% expressing no preference. Bush’s pre-election figure of 9% in 2000 remained steady at best, with a marginal decline to about 8% when blacks actually cast their ballots.

(2) The poll took place between Sept. 15 and Oct. 10, which covered all of the debates except for the last one. This long time span is puzzling and makes interpreting the results even more difficult than usual. Bush’s national poll numbers trended up from the convention in early September to a peak near month’s end. Any ground gained among blacks during that time may have dropped off during the debates, but this poll does not indicate if those supporting Kerry or Bush were interviewed late or early in the process.

Other noteworthy survey results: (1) Blacks gave their highest favorable rating to Hillary Clinton, 80%, compared with 15% unfavorable and only 5% expressing no preference. Cf. Bush, who drew 30% favorable rating (to 67% unfavorable), and Barack Obama, who also drew only 30% favorables from blacks but only 7% unfavorable. The vast majority of blacks surveyed (63%) either did not know Obama or did not know enough about him to express a preference. For what it’s worth, this survey also sampled the general population and showed a 53% favorable rating for both Bush and Hillary Clinton.

(2) When asked to identify themselves as Democrat, Republican, or Independent, fewer blacks said “Democrat” in 2004 (63%) than in 2000 (74%). Blacks identifying themselves as Republican increased from 4% in 2000 to 10% in 2004. My guess is that part of this is due to a “9/11 effect,” for the increase in GOP I.D. occurred markedly among those aged between 26 and 50 from 2000 to 2002, with it tapering off a bit from 2002 to 2004 in that age group, though rising significantly for those aged 51 and up.

(3) “How would you rate the job that President Bush is doing?” 22% of blacks said excellent or good, compared with 76% saying fair or poor. That 22%, while not a strong endorsement from black Americans, reflects a higher measure of support for the status quo from a portion of America usually depicted as almost uniformly against the president’s policies. While Bill Clinton is scheduled to stump for Kerry in Philadelphia next Monday, this is one extreme makeover that is not likely to take.

Prediction: Barring an eleventh hour smear of Bush, along the lines of the NAACP’s despicable ad trying to link Bush to the Jasper, Texas lynching, the president should improve from 8% to at least 12%-14% of the black vote. The decline in black registration as Democrats, the significant support for Bush among conservative blacks (who constituted more than a quarter of the 2004 sample), and the inability of Kerry to clinch the deal like previous Democratic presidential candidates (whose southern roots were a definite help), give me more hope this time around. Bush’s experience as commander-in-chief in a dangerous world, coupled with his strong, clear convictions about the war against terrorism and the road to an ownership society (during a pretty good economy), make him a more credible and tested candidate than Kerry.

True, 12%-14% is not exactly a black realignment, but it may reflect greater independence of thinking and action on the part of blacks. They have witnessed one term of a Bush Administration, working with a Republican Congress, and cannot mistake their improved status in America. If Bush is re-elected with a significant increase among black voters, it may signify the beginning of a break through a political logjam that could result in a serious realignment of black political loyalties in the not too distant future.

Discussions - 18 Comments

Forgive me if I missed a post on it, but does anybody know how Bush is polling among Catholics?

In 1984, Reagan garnered only 9% of the black vote while carrying 54% of Catholics. If Bush is doing as well with Catholics, as he is with inroads among blacks, perhaps this race isn’t as close as everybody thinks?

Well, Andrew Sullivan--who’s increasingly a foam-flecked hysterical Bush-basher and all-around handwringer whom I find hard to take seriously [but that’s just my opinion!]--is trumpeting a Pew poll that purports to show a huge, 13-pt swing in Catholic support away from Bush and toward Kerry.

A swing that huge would seem to me prima facie fishy (to use the technical statistical term), but see what you make of it.

I also plan to ask election entrail-reader extraordinaire Jay Cost what he thinks of this, so you may want to make a note to check his blog at

Lucas, I’ve seen a couple references to a CBS-NY Times poll from earlier this week that supposedly replicates the Joint Center’s data on black voters. But I can’t find the poll data on black voters, though I can find the rest of the story on many outlets, including Can anyone out there confirm this report from, among others, Clarence Page this past Tuesday-- sorry, I no longer have the link. Can anyone help on this?


I couldn’t find anything on the NTY/CBS poll that you mention, but check out this analysis of "Why Black Voters Will Cost Kerry the Presidency." It is based on the recent Pew poll, whose results basically track with those of the Joint Center’s poll, i.e., black support for Kerry is so soft so late in the campaign that it should worry you greatly if you are a Democrat. The analyst is the indispensable Jay Cost, a grad student in US politics at the University of Chicago:

What is the Catholic vote? Is it Catholics who go to Mass on Sunday or is it someone who was born Catholic and goes to Mass on Easter and Christmas? I think a majority of faithful Catholic vote for pro-life candidates; however, the nominal Catholic are probably evenly split.

Jay Cost’s analysis is very interesting, but it doesn’t rely on the most recent Pew poll. Rather, it relies in part on an older Pew poll and on the Joint Center poll Lucas Morel discussed in his post. The newest Pew poll shows that Kerry still hasn’t consolidated his standing in the African-American community, but pegs GWB’s support at 11%.

The other weird thing about the new Pew poll is that it suggests a radical reversal in Catholic support, with GWB losing 6% and JFK gaining 17%. I am, shall we say, dubious of this result.

To follow up on my earlier question about the unusually long time span of the poll, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 10, I now report the explanation by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies:

"It is a general social survey of black adults (not registered or likely voters) with more than 100 questions, and has been conducted in
this same time frame since 1984. The main focus of the 2004 survey was
health issues and racial disparities in health care."

So, does this mean the 18% of black Americans who would "like to see [Bush] win" will actually vote that way come election day? We don’t know who was actually registered in that sample, let alone likely to vote. But given that the older one is, the more likely one is to vote, let’s see how the survey broke down the support for Bush by age: 18-25, 14%; 26-35, 17%; 36-50, 16%; 51-64, 24%; 65+, 19%. Not a bad trend for Bush. Reminder: excluding the 18-25 age group for now, those expressing no preference polled about 11%-13% across the remaining ages.

Let’s remember the 2000 survey and actual election figures: black support for Bush before the election was 9%, with 14% not yet committed to any candidate; that 9% is pretty much all he received on election day. How do we explain that Bush didn’t move upwards at all on election day among black undecideds? My speculation is that there is tremendous peer pressure among black Americans, esp. native-born black Americans, to think of themselves as Democrats and hence beneficiaries of the New Deal and Great Society policies of the Democratic triumvirate of FDR, JFK, and LBJ. In the real world, that translates into little open debate about or acknowledgment of the virtues of the Republican Party.

This means that an anonymous survey is likely to draw out a more candid assessment of what blacks really think about an issue or politician or party than actually gets recorded on election day. Sure, the ballot box is private, but people still talk before and after, which means folks are less likely to speak one way and vote another.

So, will Bush receive his whopping 18% support on election day, or will some of his supporters stay home (having not registered or just never getting to the polls), and have their non-attendance outweighed by a greater percentage of the undecideds who break for Kerry? That is the $64,000 question. My general argument all along has been that despite the historic 2:1 advantage of the challenger over the incumbent for the erstwhile "undecided" vote, Kerry has not lit a fire under these folks even after three debates. Which means many of them will stay home, unsatisfied with either candidate.

I should add that I just read Clarence Page’s Oct. 20 Chicago Tribune op-ed, which also quotes Bositis as predicting a black vote for Bush around 12%-14%, which was my guesstimate, as well. Going out on a limb, here, I say Bush may get closer to that 18% than I initially posted yesterday if and only if there are no "October surprises" intended to draw more black support for Kerry.

A few more words about the Joint Center poll. One way of reading the 2000 result is that everyone who said he or she would vote for GWB did so, while all the undecideds broke for Gore. If that happens this time, Kerry gets 80% and Bush gets nearly 20%, a vast improvement over any Republican national result in recent memory, and perhaps enough to sway the election.

Broken down regionally, GWB does worst among African-American voters in the south (14%, as opposed to 21-24% elsewhere). Anyone care to attempt an explanation? The good news here is that GWB can easily afford to do worse with African-Americans in the south, so long as he does better elsewhere (i.e., where those votes might actually affect the outcome).

Finally, 22% of African-Americans nationwide say GWB is doing an excellent or good job; 30% have a favorable or very favorable view of him; 23% rate "No Child Left Behind" at least relatively highly; and 20-22% have a positive view of the war in Iraq. These numbers, together with the substantial percentages supporting education vouchers and opposing any legal recognition of gay marriage, suggesat to me that the 18% voting intention number is a pretty solid number. A few of these folks may be driven back into the arms of the Democratic Party, but to support the President and the war despite the incessantly negative drumbeat of criticism suggests quite a capacity for contrarianism.

Let’s hear it for "quite a capacity for contrarianism." To those blacks who dare to consider the alternative I say, "Welcome home!" This survey shows that more and more blacks are recognizing that the victim-driven bromides of the civil rights establishment simply do not wash with their own individual capacities and achievements. Moreover, to take just one example, Bush’s "ownership society" is no mere sloganeering but a concerted attempt to welcome black Americans into the mainstream of modern American life--a life, a society, where racial bigotry no longer poses the barriers it used to. Add to this Bill Cosby’s repeated efforts this year to talk straight to black audiences about what they must do for themselves regardless of any lingering bigotry that lurks around the corner of American society, and Election 2004 could very well mark the beginning of a new political climate that welcomes a true diversity of views about how American government can bless all of its constituents.

There is no mystery here. Those blacks who say they’ll vote for Bush, and only those, will vote for Bush.

The "undecideds" are waiting to be told how to vote. And I think we know what they’ll be told, now don’t we?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

As for the 18 percent for Bush figure, it’s clearly too high. Any poll will undercount the poorest, most socially marginal people in any group -- i.e., the most reliable Democrats, if they vote.

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