Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

(Part of) The Reason Why Blacks Vote Democratic

In 1972 Richard Nixon won 18 percent of the black vote, according to New York Times exit polling.

In 2008, John McCain won 4 percent of the black vote.

The conventional explanation for this has something to do with civil rights and Democrats and the “Southern strategy” followed by Republicans. And, to a large extent, the explanation is probably right.

But part of the reason African-Americans have been trending Democratic recently has as much to do with chance as with fundamental political shifts.

Democrats have had the good fortune of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The two most influential, recognized Democrats of the past two generations are incredibly popular amongst blacks. Bill Clinton was so well-regarded by African-Americans that Toni Morrison called him “the first black president”. Today Barack Obama is even more popular amongst blacks than Clinton (the fact that he actually is “the first black president” might have something to do with this).

Republicans haven’t had such luck. No Republican presidents have been relatively popular amongst blacks since Eisenhower’s time. And even he lost the black vote by a 3:2 margin.

Imagine if Republicans nominated Colin Powell in 1996. He might have cracked the black vote and won 25%; that was how well Michael Steele ran in his 2006 Senate campaign. Or he might have utterly broken the alliance between blacks and Democrats and taken more than 90% of the black vote.

That would have changed politics forever. But as luck would have it, the exact opposite happened. Barack Obama, not Colin Powell, was nominated by the Democrats and elected president. Today it looks like Democrats have locked up the black vote for another generation.



  1. but he would have split the party and the vote.

    Evangelicals won’t vote for him. He is just not Christian enough and he no where near corporatist enough for the bulk of the donors or Wing Nuts.  

  2. HappyinVT

    This makes it seem that African Americans will vote for someone more because of the color of his/her skin than because of policy.

    Obama didn’t automatically pick up the majority of the black vote during the primaries; he had to earn their support (while the Clinton campaign seemed to do a good job losing it).  State and local races might be different but for a national race I think it is misleading to over-simplify the reasons one block of voters votes the way they do.

  3. DeniseVelez

    And though I hate to dispute Toni Morrison’s quote – folks I know never though of Bill Clinton as a black president.

    The shift from the Republican Party (Party of Lincoln) began in my grandparent’s time – both of them were Republican’s – but many blacks started to change during FDR’s time, and as the Dixiecrats began to jump ship, more blacks responded to Truman’s civil rights reforms.  By the time of JFK – African Americans had made the shift.  

    I agree with Happy re: policy versus skin-color.  

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