Voters cast ballots during early voting in Charlotte, N.C., October 20, 2016. (Chris Keane/Reuters)
Shermichael Singleton of Vox Media’s “Consider It” writes that Dwight Eisenhower was the “last Republican president to garner a significant percentage of the black vote.” Eisenhower won 39 percent of the black vote, and Nixon later won 32 percent of the black vote in his losing 1960 bid — is it really the case that 39 percent is significant and 32 percent insignificant?
Republican numbers among black voters recovered a little after 1964, but never returned to the their previous level, staying under 20 percent, and continued drifting downward. Even taking into account that he faced Barack Obama on the ballot, it is remarkable that John McCain did worse among black voters in 2008 than Barry Goldwater did in 1964.
But it also is worth noting that much of the party polarization among black voters happened well before 1964. From the immediate postwar years to the early 1950s, the share of African Americans affiliated with the Republican party fell by half, from about 40 percent to less than 20 percent. (It rose to just over 20 percent later in the 1950s.) The share of black voters affiliated with the Democrats went from around 40 percent to around 60 percent during the same period of time. The last Republican presidential candidate to win a majority of African Americans’ votes was Herbert Hoover; black voters have gone majority-Democrat in congressional elections since 1946. Of course, one must view those numbers in light of the fact that many African Americans were prevented from voting in much of the country during those years.
The convulsion over the Civil Rights Act of 1964 deepened — and very possibly made permanent — political trends that began during the New Deal and that had their origin in the New Deal. It is unlikely that Republicans could recover a respectable position among black voters even if the GOP were willing to put in the work — which it isn’t. So long as Republicans remain wedded to their condescending “plantation” theory of African-American politics and to the grotesque rhetoric that accompanies it, they will continue to repulse black voters. Sneering at black communities and the cities in which many of them are located surely costs Republicans among black voters as well, and the resulting Republican politics of sour grapes only encourages more sneering and condescending, a particularly stupid and vicious cycle.
Republicans have a problem with how they talk to and about black voters and their communities. But that is not Republicans’ only problem when it comes to black voters. Joe Biden’s “put y’all back in chains!” talk is repugnant and dishonest, but it is not the reason black voters are not lined up with the GOP. Republicans need to disabuse themselves of their self-flattering notion that this is all about racial hysteria and begin to deal forthrightly with the fact that African Americans mostly support the Democratic party because they prefer the policies associated with that party to the ones associated with the Republican party. There are reasons for that that are only indirectly related to the politics of race as such.
If I am correct that many voters (including many African Americans, single women, and immigrants) are attracted to the social-welfare policies of the Democratic party for reasons having to do with risk-aversion, then maybe the Republicans’ current quasi-revolutionary posture, their rhetoric of revolution, and their endorsement of an agent of chaos for the presidency are, taken all together, ill-considered.