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 NAACPs 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. Bushs 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.