Can the Democratic Party Retain Its Hold on Black Voters?

(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Theodore R. Johnson, THE ATLANTIC



(The Atlantic) — In 1988, the late Ed Brown, then-executive director of the Voter Education Project, watched as the Democratic Party ignored blacks’ growing displeasure with Massachusetts Governor and Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. The party assumed blacks had little choice but to support Dukakis since the only alternative would be to defect and vote Republican—an option ostensibly more unattractive than an inattentive Dukakis campaign. The party was wrong: Black voter turnout rate plummeted by nearly 5 percent, the second largest decline for this bloc ever observed.

In the lead up to the 1992 presidential election, Brown admonished an overconfident Democratic Party for again taking the black vote for granted. Lest its short memory fuel undue overconfidence, he famously reminded the party, “The view is that blacks have nowhere else to go, but blacks always have somewhere to go—they can go fishing.”

And the intervening years have largely borne him out. African Americans overwhelmingly back Democratic candidates in presidential and congressional elections—averaging about 88 percent support since 1980. And polling from past elections has shown that blacks are more likely to stay home on Election Day than to switch their vote to Republican presidential candidates. The black electorate mostly votes for Democrats, or not at all. But that may finally be changing.




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