Jonetta Rose Barras, writing in the Washington Post, argues that “the current political dynamics in black America do not bode well for the future; the Democratic Party could lose its good thing.” Barras concedes, as I think she must, that the Republican’s goal of winning 25 percent of the black vote in 2004 is unrealistic. However, she presents polling data from the liberal Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies showing that there has been a measurable “rightward” shift in the black electorate. For example, in 2002, 63 percent of blacks surveyed claimed to be Democrats, down from 74 percent in 2000. According to Barra, “the decrease occurred in nearly every age group. 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.”
Barras provides two main explanations for the shift. First, more and more blacks have college degrees and belong to the middle class. These blacks tend to reject the us-against-them thinking that is the staple of the Democrats’ message. Second, according to Barras, blacks increasingly believe that the Democrats are taking them for granted, and that “although blacks repeatedly are depended on to keep the party in elected office, African Americans often are overlooked for key leadership posts.”
The significant shift in sentiment that poll shows occurred between 2000 and 2002 suggests that other factors, beside the longer-term trends Barras cites, may be at work. National security is probably a bigger concern for blacks after 9/11, and that’s never good for Democrats. In addition, it is much easier to believe that Republicans are anti-black when they are out of power. The sky did not fall on blacks after Bush took office, and with the economy now expanding rapidly and affirmative action re-affirmed, the Republican poll numbers may be better now than they were in 2002.
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