The Democratic voting base today is a minority coalition. It is an alliance of African-Americans, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, transgender and transsexuals, third wave feminists, and atheists. Of these “minority” groups, African-Americans seem the most loyal. For decades, blacks have voted at least 90% Democratic. However, the Democrats expect more of them, and give less in return, as I’ll explain shortly.
First, note that blacks were won over by the Democratic Party gradually from about the 1930s until the 1960s. There is plenty written on this subject. For this blogpost, I only want to highlight that blacks were won over when the Democratic Party delivered results for them, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. But not a lot has been done for the black voting base of the Democratic Party since the early 1970s.
For those who say that racism is history, let me just give you a glimpse of reality. In the US, Blacks are over five times more likely to be in prison than whites, and more than twice as likely as Hispanics. Some will say that it has more to do with poverty than skin color, but Hispanics on average are no more affluent than blacks. Look into “Institutional Racism” if you want to learn more, but in short, blacks are far from achieving genuine racial equality.
Do the Democrats care about African-Americans anymore?
Despite the overwhelming institutional discrimination still faced by African-Americans, very little is said by most Democratic politicians, and Republicans usually deny it’s even happening at all. (OK, so there’s Rand Paul and … Rand Paul.)
Now consider the Democratic Presidential candidates. Of the five who attended the CNN Democratic Debate, two of them have strongly pushed for criminal justice reform: Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley. Martin O’Malley hasn’t polled above 5%, and Jim Webb didn’t have an ice cube’s chance in hell. Who is at the top? Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Whenever you hear a speech from either of them to the Democratic base, they highlight their LGBT credentials. They highlight a “woman’s right to choose (abortion)”. After alienating the socially conservative half of the working class, Sanders will start highlighting his populist economic policies. Clinton will try to convince the base that she’s a progressive too. But you hardly hear a peep about continued racial injustice, criminal justice reform, de facto segregation of public schools, unequal housing, or any of the other structural barriers to racial equality that particularly affect African Americans. It’s not that Clinton or Sanders don’t, in principle, support racial progress, but they don’t seem to hold it high on their priority list.
The Fragile “minority coalition” – black interests are not Democratic interests
Blacks are often misunderstood to be “hard core liberals”. Yet they are about as reluctant to identify as “liberal” as most whites nationwide. Think Progress is just one of many examples of “white liberals” who can’t make sense of this. The reality is that most blacks may vote Democrat, but they are not “liberals”, they are not “conservatives”, and they are not “moderates”. Ideological diversity is a privilege enjoyed by whites in this country, and to a lesser extent Asians and Hispanics. But African-Americans have too much at stake to ponder ideology. The long history of oppression they’ve faced has forced them to always think of the common good of the black community, sometimes called black utility heuristic .*
Black Americans largely support the economic agenda of the Democratic Party. Most of them want a higher minimum wage, protection of American jobs (which Clinton suddenly claims to care about lately), stronger safety nets, better funding for better education, etc. But on the moral issues, like gay marriage and abortion, many don’t know this, but blacks are actually the most conservative demographic in the country. According to this 2015 Pew Poll, only 41% of blacks support same-sex marriage, compared to 59% of whites. That 41% is as high as it’s ever been for them, and it’s still not a majority, despite the popularity of this issue.
In the CNN Democratic Debate, Hillary Clinton passionately railed against “continued discrimination against the LGBT community”, even though they have the right to marry anywhere in the US now. With that issue resolved, what could possibly be left? Yet we hear more from Rand Paul than Hillary Clinton about criminal justice reform and the link to high unemployment rates among blacks.
So gays are making progress. Transgender people are making progress. Third wave feminists even are making at least an impact of the Democratic Party itself. The Democrats continue to court Hispanic voters with promises of immigration reform, such as the DREAM Act. Yet nothing is being done for African-Americans, and they are on average much worse off than any other demographic. Most Democrats proclaim LGBT rights as the “new civil rights” movement, but they haven’t even achieved the goals of the old civil rights movement.
How the Democrats will lose them
It won’t happen all at once. The Republicans, long ago, had the majority of black voters. They were the party of Lincoln, after all, and they did end slavery. Following that, however, the Republicans became increasingly disinterested in African-American issues. They still, in principle, supported some basic civil rights policies in the 1920s and 30s such as anti-lynching legislation, but these issues were low on their priority list. Consequently, the Republicans slowly lost black voters to the Democratic Party.
The Democrats will likely lose them the same way. As Republicans prioritized big business friendly policies and appeasement of the then very racist white south, over equal rights for blacks; today’s Democratic Party prioritizes LGBT rights, abortion, immigration policies, and appeasement of the financial sector.
Furthermore, consider that African-Americans are mostly very religious people. What could be more important to a once enslaved people who relied on their faith to lead them to freedom – then religious freedom?! However, the left would have us believe now that “religious freedom” is synonymous with homophobia, and that, to them, is the equivalent of racism. But the calls for religious freedom from the right will certainly be heard by black worshipers.
The one problem with my prediction – Where will they go?
I’m sure the Republicans of the 1920s thought – It doesn’t matter if we pass anti-lynching legislation this year, this decade, or this century. It isn’t like blacks are going to vote Democrat. Not the party of the Confederacy! The Republicans, at their peril, took their black voting base for granted.
I’m sure the leadership of the Democratic Party likewise thinks it can continue to procrastinate on criminal justice reform, continue to blame Republicans for underfunded public schools in black neighborhoods, while putting their real energies into keeping funding for Planned Parenthood. It’s not like blacks will go Republican, right? Not the party of Lincoln! Not the party that ended slavery…uh oh!
I don’t know if the Republicans will capitalize on this opportunity or not. The party base is mostly older white people. In short, most of them do not see themselves as racists, but they largely support the institutions that yield racially unjust outcomes. I’ve watched Rand Paul slowly gain popularity among this group, then become outspoken against racial injustice in the criminal justice system, and suddenly plummet in the polls.** It’s likely that this base of the GOP will resist efforts of the party to highlight criminal justice reform anytime soon.
There’s also the remote possibility that a viable third party could emerge. However, that has about a Jim Webb’s chance in a Democratic Primary.
If the GOP plays its cards right, it could win back the descendants of the people they once helped free from slavery***. Because of that old white voting base, I don’t expect this to happen quickly. But as blacks become increasingly fed up with the Democratic Party, first they’ll stay home more often, then some Republican politicians will ask – How can we get them to vote for us instead? And then it will begin.
How will Democratic elites respond if they lose the black voting base?
Democratic elites once took my white, working class ancestors for granted. As I’ve explained before, white southerners switched Republican for a wide variety of reasons. But the elites of the Democratic Party, and most of the academic establishment, claim that white Republicans are just racists who can’t get over the end of Jim Crow. They speak of a “southern strategy” and racist “dog whistles”, while ignoring our real interests.
If I’m right about this, and blacks leave the Democratic Party over the next few decades, will Dem. elites take responsibility for how they neglected their black base, just as they neglected the white working class base? They can’t claim racism, not against black people, right? Only white people can be racist. Maybe they’ll blame homophobia. They will be able to find some examples I’m sure of certain prominent blacks who are anti-LGBT. George W. Bush, after all, made some inroads in the black community with his opposition to same-sex marriage. I wonder if they’ll claim that Republicans have a homophobic “dog whistle” that only homophobic black people can hear.
Then, I also wonder how they’ll lose the Hispanic vote by the end of this century. Democratic Party elites have a propensity to shoot their party in the foot, despite gun control. By all democratic (small “d”) logic, they should be mopping the floor with Republicans. Republicans wage wars we can’t afford, tax the poor, subsidize the rich, send our jobs to South-East Asia, and blame the underemployed working class for being lazy. But Republicans also know how to capitalize on the blunders of the “liberal” elite.
*I already know that white liberals will opportunistically retort with rhetorical questions like “Who are you to talk about the black experience? What do you know about it?” Never mind that white liberals have made their academic and political careers out of pretending to know what African-Americans face. I don’t pretend. I’ve never walked a mile in their shoes. But I do listen to them. And much of what I state in this blogpost is based on what I’ve either heard from many of them, or read, as you can see in some of my links below.
**Rand Paul is more recently picking his numbers back up. He was about fourth or fifth last I checked… there’s still plenty of time before the Iowa caucus.
***Really, black slaves freed themselves. The Republicans supported them when they saw how it would help them win the Civil War.
Link(s) for further consideration:
Another prediction that blacks may leave the Democratic Party:
Despite my tone above, I really don’t have a problem with gay people or their newly obtained marriage rights. If you want to know what I think exactly on that subject: