The Agenda

Why Republicans Should Take the Black Vote Seriously

When Republican political strategists contemplate the demographic transformation of the electorate, they tend to focus on Latino voters. Yet recent trends among African American voters have also contributed to GOP woes. As Jamelle Bouie observes, John McCain and Mitt Romney fared very poorly among black voters, large numbers of whom are concentrated in politically competitive states (Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio). In 2012, 93 percent of black voters backed Barack Obama, a slight decline from the 95 percent that had supported him in 2008. In contrast, John Kerry secured the support of 88 percent of African American voters in 2004 against 11 percent for George W. Bush. Bouie suggests that even a relatively a modest increase in black support for a Republican presidential candidate — to 2004 levels — would yield significant dividends. And so he suggests that a renewed GOP push for black voters might be a better use of scarce resources than a push for Latinos voters. This makes a great deal of sense. One possibility is that the sharp increase in turnout among African Americans, who went from 11 percent of the electorate in 2004 to 13 percent in 2008 and 2012, might not persist in 2016 and 2020, thus reducing the salience of the black vote. My suspicion, however, is that black turnout levels will remain relatively high.

So when Republican primary voters vet the next round of GOP presidential contenders, they ought to give at least some thought to whether the candidate in question might appeal to black voters. Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana and current president of Purdue University, fared relatively well among black voters in 2004 and 2008, having won 13 percent of the black vote the first time around and 20 percent the second. And 2008 was an election with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. It is a safe bet, however, that Daniels won’t run in 2016. Of the various Republicans currently being discussed as 2016 presidential candidates, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is perhaps best positioned to woo black voters. A recent Quinnipiac survey found that while Christie’s statewide approval rating was 59 percent, he had a 65 percent approval rating among white voters and a 31 percent approval rating among black voters. Though one assumes that some share of the voters who express approval of Christie’s job performance won’t back his bid for reelection, it is at least possible that he could fare as well among black voters in his state in 2013 as Daniels did in 2012. The national black electorate is obviously very different from the New Jersey black electorate. But Christie has made a concerted effort to take about issues of particular interest to the African American voters, including the quality of public education in high-poverty neighborhoods and criminal justice reform. And his willingness to distance himself from congressional Republicans might also prove appealing to black voters, or rather it make him less unappealing.  


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