Show me a poll and I will show you another that contradicts its findings. Show me another and I can introduce you to someone who can discredit all three based on sampling, contact methods, and introduced biases. Polls, by their very nature, are as imprecise and fallible as the people who conduct them.
It stands to reason that, with the November 6 presidential election just around the corner, it is getting tough to find more than a handful of political prognosticators who see eye to eye on the outcome. We disagree on Iowa, Colorado and Wisconsin. One poll shows GOP nominee Mitt Romney gaining traction in the battleground states, and still another shows him running rain-soaked and flat-footed in a storm. And then there are a bevy of divergent opinions about so-called “enthusiasm gaps” among conservatives, college students and non-white voters. Ask us about the voting preferences of mountain Yetis and you are sure to witness at least one full-throated diatribe about the voter suppression efforts targeting mythological creatures.
In the midst of the rancor, there is consensus on one thing: Barack Obama will win the black vote.
According to an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released in August, Romney’s share of the African-American vote was zero. Margin of error aside, for the first time in history a presidential candidate may exceed 95 percent. Many, including whites and blacks, are pointing to Obama’s ethnicity as a deciding or at least informing factor—albeit for different reasons. Ironically, both groups point to racial prejudice as the culprit.
“Black people are racists!” someone shouted at me in a tweet. “You wouldn’t vote for him if he wasn’t black!”
African-Americans are not hesitant to count racial pride among our reasons. Photos depicting a rear shot of Obama with the words, “we’ve got his back” continue to make their way around the Internet. But we are equally as quick to point to the president’s policies and voice fears over what a Romney Administration might mean to social justice, women’s reproductive rights, health care reform and public education. Anticipated cuts to entitlements, Pell Grants, school lunches and the Head Start program, as spelled out in the Ryan budget, also top the list. We were not amused by Paul Ryan’s photo-op junket to a homeless shelter to re-wash clean dishes or his “poverty” speech.
While studies show black voters are less inclined to support the president’s position on marriage equality, we African Americans—by and large— often use words like “trust,” “fairness” and “honesty,” words almost never used to describe Romney or his running-mate.
But do we vote exclusively for black candidates? The answer is no.
“If we only voted for black people, we would’ve voted for Alan Keyes and Herman Cain,” said another tweet referring to candidates who garnered too little black support to fill a broom closet. Indeed, if the angry voices on the right were correct, Al Sharpton might have been hosting monthly card games at Camp David. Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte might have been guests in the Lincoln bedroom if Shirley Chisholm had her way. And well, Jesse Jackson…
“The history of the American republic is black people having to vote for white people,” said MSNBC host Chris Hayes on a recent broadcast. “No one votes for people of a different race more — more reliably and historically than African-Americans.”
Here is a history lesson. The fact is that African-Americans have been voting not only for white candidates but for Democrats since the close of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Sr. and those of his era (including my grandparents) had been Republicans. Black voters flocked to the “Party of Lincoln” upon passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870 and voted that way for nearly 100 years.
“[Blacks] have been voting for white people for years and years and years and years,” Hayes continued.
However, they fled in droves when Dixiecrats – Southern conservative Democrats who fought to preserve Jim Crow segregation laws – grew angry about civil right legislation, skipped across the aisle and joined to the GOP. The so-called “southern strategy,” often attributed to President Richard Nixon and popularized by his political strategist Kevin Phillips, sealed the deal.
Phillips is quoted in a 1970 New York Times article saying, “From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that.” Phillips successfully sought to polarize and win the largely white south.
“And you know who votes for white people, also?” Hayes said. “White people vote for white people.”
President Ronald Reagan built a national coalition on that notion. Reagan launched his presidential campaign in Neshoba County, just miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi where three civil rights workers were murdered during 1964’s Freedom Summer. His calling card was “states’ rights,” an intentional throwback to the Civil War.
Aided by reverse migration patterns, then Governor Bill Clinton turned the southern strategy on its head. When the polls closed in 1992, Clinton snagged 83 percent of the black vote. And no matter what you believe about Clinton’s policies, he was not the first black president.
I remember well America’s self-adulation upon the election of Barack Obama. My mother sat tearfully as she watched MSNBC call state after state for Obama. We were hopeful that our worst days—the days of racial division and broken promises—were behind us. We were headed, we believed, for the glory of a post-racial America. For us, Obama was the embodiment of that ever-elusive American Dream.
“We are not as divided as our politics suggests,” Obama told us. Whites and blacks alike hitched their wagons to the hope of a new day.