It’s no secret that a majority of blacks support the Democratic Party. In the most recent presidential election, blacks overwhelming supported the first black president, democrat Barack Obama, over republican John McCain. According to www.politico.com, 96% of blacks voted for Obama. According to the Web site of the African American Republican Leadership Council, only about 14% of blacks generally vote republican.
This wasn’t always the case. Following the civil war, blacks overwhelmingly voted republican. The Republican Party-the “party of Lincoln”-had helped to abolish slavery and blacks showed their appreciation with their votes.
Talmadge Anderson writes in “Introduction to African American Studies,” a text used in Africana Education Program classes at EWU, “most African Americans perceived Republicanism as being the party of Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation and civil rights. Once liberated from the racist Democratic stronghold of the South, Blacks tended to vote Republican in the North.”
Anderson identifies the 1932 presidential election between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the tipping point when black support shifted toward the Democratic Party. Anderson writes, “The Democrats nominated and were successful in having Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an astute northern politician, elected for president in 1932. For the first time since Reconstruction, African Americans voted in significant numbers in support of the Democratic candidates.” One could say that the relationship between blacks and republicans has gone downhill ever since.
Dr. Scott Finney, an Associate Professor at EWU’s Africana Education Program, said that differing political ideologies also affects how blacks approach civil rights issues.
“Typically the conservative will say, based on the context of the present times, let’s not try to get something so quickly, let’s work our way there, whereas the liberal typically would say, change was due yesterday; we can’t wait.”
Finney identified Booker T. Washington as a significant champion of the conservative line of thought. Washington’s view was that it was better to work with the current system rather than try to reinvent the system altogether.
Self-improvement and personal responsibility are other themes within black conservative ideology.
“The typical black conservative movement will be, it’s a matter of self-improvement and it’s not the forces that are out there that are larger than you, the institution, that determine your destiny, it’s what you can do,” said Finney. “Whereas typically the liberal will say, that sounds good, but the institutions and the forces out there actually rob me of my self-determination and until we take care of that, don’t tell me about self-determination, tell me about how we’re going to change the forces and the institutions that are biased and slanted against me. I think, based on where you are based on context and part of the world, region . . . I think both sides have some, to me, they both have some very valid points.”
Communication is another key component in the equation, said Finney. “You can negotiate and still hold on to what you want, but give and take implies kind of dropping and assuming someone else’s perspective, and most people just aren’t good at doing that. Most people don’t want to do it.”
Despite a generally liberal mindset, many blacks tend to be conservative on social issues. For example, exit polls showed that 70% of blacks were in favor of Proposition 8, the infamous initiative that outlawed same-sex marriages in the state of California.
So what can the Republican Party and conservatives in general do to attract black voters in the future?
That depends. Michael Steele’s rise to the top of the party with his appointment as Chair of the Republican National Committee may already be a step in the right direction. Then again, republican President George W. Bush appointed many black individuals to his cabinet, and that didn’t send the black population into the flanks of the Republican Party.
Still, showing the black community that there are black people out there that rise to the upper echelons of the Republican Party based on their convictions rather than the color of their skin can’t be a bad message to send.
Stressing the common ground that blacks and republicans share on social issues has met with mixed results in the past as well.
A 2007 Washington Post story about socially conservative blacks quotes Pastor Lyle Dukes who said, “Morality is different in terms of the way we see it and white evangelicals see it. What we think is moral is not only the defense of marriage, but we also think equal education is a moral issue. We think discrimination is immoral.”
The question, then, might be: should conservatives alter their convictions to attract black voters, or put all their effort into trying to convince them that conservative ideals are good for everyone of any color?