Black Voters Declaring Independence
I'm conservative. Prostitution - I'm liberal," says the reigning
King of Comedy, Chris Rock. The libertarian-sounding riff received
rounds of laughter and applause from the audience recorded for
his recent HBO special, but it hits on a deeper trend whose ripples
could build up to rock underlying assumptions about American politics.
African-Americans are de-aligning from the Democratic Party, but
Republicans have so far failed to pick them up in significant
numbers. The result is a shift that could increase the influence
of, and competition for, African-American votes, while swelling
the rising tide of independent voters across the nation.
compounded during the 1960s when the Republican Party embraced
the philosophy of states rights, leading Barry Goldwater to win
87% of the vote in Mississippi while Lyndon Johnson and his Great
Society civil rights legislation won a nationwide landslide victory.
When Ronald Reagan chose to symbolically kick off his 1980 presidential
campaign in Philadelphia, Miss. - where, coincidentally or not,
the CORE trinity of Cheney, Schwerner, and Goodman were murdered
by the KKK - these perceptions were highlighted in a way that
the substantive elevation of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice
has not yet been able to eliminate.
has been happening in the African-American community. Just as
the Reverend Al Sharpton hasn't gotten the memo that there is
no position titled "Leader of Black America" available anymore,
the diversification of the black community economically and politically
is changing the landscape. One recent sign of this is the surprising
amount of support for Mayor Bloomberg among African-American voters.
In a city where local elections have too long been defined by
ethnic algebra, Republicans have had a hard time winning over
black voters. But Mr. Bloomberg has made an appeal to African-Americans
a cornerstone of his re-election bid, while straining to show
his independence from the national Republican Party. A recent
WNBC/Marist poll showed the mayor receiving 50% support from black
voters in a race against Fernando Ferrer with the election five
endorsement of Mr. Ferrer has so far failed to shift that balance,
and while the mayor's mistaken decision to not attend a debate
at the Apollo Theater in Harlem this Thursday may somewhat impact
his support, the break in the often-invoked "coalition of color"
in favor of a Republican mayor is extraordinary. It has also been
fueled by the New York Independence Party's enthusiastic campaigning
for Mr. Bloomberg among the African-American community with a
voter push titled "Bloomberg on C," offering people the chance
to re-elect the mayor without pulling the Republican lever.
evidence that this trend is not limited to Mr. Bloomberg. In St.
Petersburg, Fla., the conservative Republican mayor, Rick Baker
- a close ally of the governor, Jeb Bush - is cruising to re-election
with an unlikely 85% support among African-American voters in
a city that had been deeply divided by race. The reason? Mr. Baker
spent serious time and effort rebuilding a previously ignored
center of the city, now know as Midtown.
analysis of shifts in the black community shows that the move
away from the Democratic Party and towards political independence
is strongest among young African-American voters. According to
a paper titled "The Political Orientations of Young African Americans"
by David A. Bositis published in the journal Soul, this
year, underwritten by the Institute for Research in African American
Studies at Columbia University, one quarter of African American
voters under the age of 35 now identify as political independents,
in contrast to 10% of senior citizens.
trend is broad as well as deep - in 1998 only 5% of African-American
voters between the age of 51 and 64 identified as independents,
but by 2002 that number increased fourfold to 21%. This analysis
shows that 25% of young black voters are self-described conservatives,
while 31% are moderates. On education policy, 66% support school
vouchers for public, private or parochial school - a major point
of policy difference between the Republican and Democratic Party
- while nearly 80% favor partial privatization of Social Security.
This is in sharp contrast to African-American elected officials
in particular, of whom 70% over the age of 40 oppose school vouchers.
disconnect between the liberal African-American political establishment
and young voters should cause serious concern among Democratic
Party power brokers. The national spokesman for the Congress On
Racial Equality, Niger Innis, believes that "the trend of younger
black voters moving away from the plantation to the independent
line, if not the Republican Party, is reflective of a moderation
of tone, a movement away from the traditional left wing."
scares the beejezus out of the establishment left-wing black leadership,"
Mr. Innis continues. "That's why they're getting more caustic
and extreme with their language, because they want to stroke paranoia
among the black community so that nothing changes." This, in turn,
only fuels the generational divide which is evident when you compare
younger African-American elected leaders such as Rep. Harold Ford
Jr. to a former Black Panther such as Rep. Bobby Rush, or Senator
Obama of Illinois to Jesse Jackson.
is under way: The question is whether the Republican Party can
convincingly reach out to African-American voters, or whether
further de-alignment toward independents will occur in this absence.
In any case, it is a healthy sign of a nation that is slowly evolving
past crippling left/right, black/white limitations and toward
a fundamentally freer time when an individual's political beliefs
are assumed to be more than skin deep.
John P. Avlon
is a columnist and associate editor of the New
York Sun, former chief speechwriter for Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani,
To a Friend | Printer