Black voters joined with the rest of the nation in 2004 to give a vote of confidence to our president.
Getting blacks to vote Republican is no small accomplishment. Yet they did so in sufficient numbers to play an important role in re-electing George Bush. The challenge now for Republicans is to understand what worked and to keep it up. It’s essential for African Americans and for the nation.
President Bush got 11 percent of the black vote, up three points from the 8 percent he got in 2000. Given the work we’ve put in to get the conservative message to blacks, and pre-election polls showing black Republican support upward, I was disappointed.
But there’s more to the story. Black voter turnout surged by 25 percent. So President Bush got 11 percent of a black voter turnout of 13.2 million voters compared to 8 percent that he got of about 10.5 million black voters who turned out in 2000.
The net number of blacks supporting George Bush doubled in 2004.
Black votes for President Bush in key battleground states proved to be crucial. In the pivotal state of Ohio, critical for a Bush victory, the president got 16 percent of the black vote, up 9 percent over what he received in 2000.
Not incidental to the strong black support for the president in Ohio is the fact that Ohio was one of 11 states that had a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage. All the initiatives passed, and certainly the initiative in Ohio helped coax out the black vote and helped motivate those black voters to vote Republican.
The same-sex marriage ban has polled strongly all over the nation – however, the issue has been even stronger in the black community than in the white community.
Pundits are writing that this was an election about values. I agree, and the black Republican vote echoes this. However, there remain important differences between the black Christian vote and the white Christian vote. Attention to these differences provides clues to the work that needs to be done to broaden and grow Republican support in the black community.
In particular, the gains that have been made among blacks are almost exclusively on the social agenda. Republicans have made little progress in this community on domestic and economic issues.
Here is my “to do” list for the care, nurturing and growth of black Republican support:
- Continue to focus on the black church. Black Christians still vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Republicans are making gains, as evidenced by this election. But we’re not making the gains we should. What does it say when Bill Clinton of Monica Lewinsky fame continues to get the warm welcome he does in black churches? There’s a problem here. Black religious leaders need to be engaged to think about what is going on.
- Understand that the messenger is as important as the message. One reason Bill Clinton gets the affection he does from blacks, despite the truth that he represents everything destructive to our community, is that blacks sense that he cares. Nothing gets done without trust, and the truth is that there are few Republican leaders who can walk into a black church, even with the best news in the world, and be received with trust. Black religious leaders need to be courted by Republicans they can trust and feel comfortable with.
- Really care. Every single black in America should have voted for George Bush. His social agenda and economic agenda are precisely what black America needs. Yet because of the trust issue, the word is not getting through sufficiently. Too many blacks feel that Republicans really don’t care about them – that they just want to use them. We need Republicans whose hearts hurt as much as black pastors’ hearts hurt about the problems in the inner cities.
- Maintain a regular ongoing program of communication. Considering the points above, get the message to black religious leaders that the critical common ground they share with the Republican Party is traditional values.
- Educate on the connection between the social agenda and the economic agenda. Ownership and self reliance grow out of faith and family. Black household wealth remains pathetically low compared to white household wealth. Blacks need private Social Security accounts more than whites. But this community needs education on this and other economic issues.
We have much to do but we can and must do it. Blacks should love George Bush the way they love Bill Clinton. His agenda of traditional values and ownership is the only way out for our community. Fortunately, there are many blacks who are getting the message. But too many still are not.