The Corner

Blacks, Democrats, and Republicans

Over on the home page, Thomas Sowell discusses black voters’ allegiance to the Democratic party and the failure of the GOP to make a robust case for black votes.

Blacks have been the Democrats’ most reliable voting bloc for the last 50 years. And let’s face it, with Barack Obama in the White House, that’s not going to change in the near future.

On the national level, Democrats typically get around 90 percent of the black vote, even when a black man isn’t running for president as a Democrat. Al Gore got 92 percent of the black vote in 2000; John Kerry got 88 percent in 2004.

These percentages aren’t just impressive; for Democrats, they’re imperative. Since 1980, the percentage of white votes received by the Democrats’ candidate for president has usually hovered around 39 percent. Unless Democrats maintain a vise grip on at least 90 percent of the black vote, the party’s presidential prospects usually fade to oblivion.

Both parties know this. If the GOP peeled off just 5 or 10 percent of the black vote, Democrats would be in perpetual electoral jeopardy, and not just at the presidential level.

Dr. Sowell discusses a few of the reasons why blacks who support Democrats are voting against self- interest (and makes a more persuasive case than Thomas Frank did in What’s the Matter with Kansas? regarding Kansans’ support of the Republican party).There are many more reasons. Consider just the following:

Large, Arbitrary Minimum Wage Increases. Milton Friedman once said that “We regard the minimum wage as one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the statute books.” (A good argument can be made that the minimum wage vies for this title with the Davis-Bacon Act — uniformly supported by Democrats — mandating that prevailing wages be paid on government construction projects and passed for the express purpose of preventing blacks from competing with whites on public-works jobs.)

Sharp increases in the minimum wage price unskilled workers out of the labor market, a dislocation that falls most heavily on young black males. Such increases impair the ability of unskilled workers to get the entry-level jobs that are the first rungs on the ladder of upward job mobility. As someone once said, a wage, minimum or otherwise, presumes a job.

Public Education and School Choice. Millions of black kids are trapped in medieval public schools that are insulated from competition and suffocated by union rules. Yet Democrats resist meaningful choice, insisting instead on that infallible remedy, “full funding.” #more#They’re encouraged, apparently, by how well that solution has worked in places like Newark, which spends $18,000 per student — among the most of any major public school system — but where only 30 percent of 8th graders can pass the annual proficiency test in math. Or perhaps they’re brightened by the example of the D.C. public-school system, which also has among the highest per-pupil expenditures in the nation yet perennially returns among the lowest test scores.

Less than 25 percent of black 17-year-olds can read as well as the average white 17-year-old. Nearly 90 percent of black 17-year-olds score below the average white 17-year-old in math. More than 90 percent of black 17-year-olds score below the average white 17-year-old in science. The average black 17-year-old has the academic proficiency of the average white 8th grader.

These figures have proven impervious to increased spending. In fact, in some cases the gap has widened as public school spending — in constant dollars — has increased. But Democrats, beholden to unions, continue to oppose school choice and meaningful reform, thereby consigning another generation of blacks to educational purgatory.

Affirmative Action. Democrats are champions of racial preferences (see Eric Holder’s directive to the Dayton Police Department). Since racial preferences in, e.g., college admissions most heavily favor blacks, it would appear, at first blush, that black votes for Democrats are indeed self-interested. But evidence continues to accumulate that affirmative action may be one of the greatest scams perpetrated on blacks.

Studies by, for example, the Center for Equal Opportunity show that the racial preferences employed by some college admissions offices boost a black applicant’s odds of admission over a similarly-situated white comparative by a factor of 200, often much more. This results in what UCLA law professor Richard Sander calls the “mismatch effect” — i.e., black students being admitted at schools in which they’re poorly qualified to compete. Consequently, black students are more likely to perform poorly and flunk out. For example, Prof. Sander found that 50 percent of black law students settle in the bottom 10 percent of their respective classes. Black law students are two and a half times more likely than whites not to graduate, four times more likely not to pass the bar exam.

Welfare and the War on Poverty. Were this a shooting war, the Democrats would have surrendered in 1965. As it stands, after 45 years and several trillion dollars, misguided if well-intended liberal policies have contributed to a toxic culture of grievance and dependency that, while not confined to a particular race, has been especially damaging to the black underclass.

The list of issue conflicts between Democrats’ policy positions and the interests of black voters goes on and on: illegal immigration, abortion, Social Security reform, to name a few.

But don’t expect any noteworthy changes in black voter allegiance in the near term. A comment made by a black law student after an affirmative-action debate in which I participated a few years ago illustrates just one of the many obstacles faced by Republicans. The student acknowledged that affirmative action often harms its purported beneficiaries and that its proponents are, as he put it, “condescending and insulting.” Even so, he asked. “How can we (blacks) support Republicans given the Republicans’ history toward blacks in this country?”

I pointed out that it wasn’t the GOP that had opposed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Nor was it Republicans who opposed the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery or the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing equal protection or the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing voting rights. It wasn’t Republicans who opposed Teddy Roosevelt’s anti-lynching legislation, or that filibustered or otherwise opposed more than a dozen anti-lynching bills in the last century. Republicans didn’t institutionalize Jim Crow or implement school segregation, poll taxes, or literacy tests. Bull Connor, Lester Maddox, Orval Faubus, and George Wallace weren’t Republicans. A higher percentage of Republicans voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act than did Democrats.

The student and the other black students gathered around looked surprised. One confessed that she would’ve bet that “Democrats” should be substituted for “Republicans” in each of the examples.

The GOP’s record concerning blacks is far from unassailable, but that doesn’t explain black allegiance to Democrats. That allegiance won’t change — Allen West and Tim Scott notwithstanding — as long as President Obama is the Democrats’ standard bearer. And as long as Republicans don’t make an effort for the vote.


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