In what is projected to be a close presidential race,
this voting block may hold the key to the White House.
The Rev. Al Sharpton first brought the issue to national
attention in the Democratic primary presidential debates.
Sharpton openly criticized his party for taking the
black vote for granted and vocalized the disappointment
many feel toward the Democrats.
The Republicans appear eager to seize the opportunity
to court the black vote. Republican National Committee
Chairman Ed Gillespie told one newspaper that the Republicans
are launching a major campaign to make some headway
within the African American community. They have a goal
of winning 25 percent of the black vote this fall. Gillespie
predicted the GOP will make significant progress with
African American voters (a task not many Republican
presidential candidates in recent memory have been able
The Republicans have an arduous task ahead of them.
President Bush’s stance on issues like affirmative
action, and his record on the economy could serve as
a deterrent to potential black voters. The political
action committee also indicated that 52 percent of the
African Americans surveyed said the GOP ignores the
black community completely.
William Sampson, DePaul University public policy professor,
stated his amazement that this figure was so low. Sampson
asserted that the figure should be higher because the
Republicans have a long history of ignoring blacks.
Chris Garrett, director of the Grass Roots Program for
the Republican National Committee, dismissed the program’s
critics. Garrett said that the Republican Party has
been “aggressively recruiting African Americans
to run for office and participate in the process.”
Garrett also explains that the Republican National
Committee has been “[organizing] team events and
going into African American communities ... trying to
get people involved in the local Republican Party.”
The theme for this presidential election looks to be
“energizing your base.” But according to
Professor Sampson, no one really is going to energize
the black community. “Courting the black vote
is risky,” he says. “It will alienate others
that are not directly affected by [urban issues like]
poverty and drugs.” Citing Sharpton as the case
in point, Sampson asserted that Sharpton’s message
did not resonate with voters because, “he turned
off a lot of people.”
Notwithstanding, the Democrats have taken umbrage at
what this poll implies. “African Americans are
the most loyal group of Democrats the party has. We
can’t take one single vote for granted. And we
won’t,” vowed Democratic National Committee
press secretary Tony Welch.
The New African American Voter
Leviticus Turner, a 24-year-old African American female
and second-generation college graduate from Chicago,
defines herself as an Independent and was a self-described
Democrat until 2000. When asked what prompted the switch
she responded, “I don’t just vote on party
lines anymore. I used to. Although I was never, explicitly,
told to vote Democratic, it was implied: That’s
what black people do. But now, I look at each candidate
Turner is not alone in this trend that sees African
Americans moving toward the status of Independent voters.
The Joint Center for Politics and Economic Studies,
in another poll, revealed that 24 percent of African
Americans identify themselves as Independents, and 10
percent as Republicans, each up from 2000. The poll
went on to show that the number of blacks voting Democratic
in the 2002 election was 63 percent, down from 2000.
This survey suggested that many black Democrats are
rethinking their political affiliation.
Although Turner is open to voting for a Republican,
she said won’t vote for Bush. Turner pointed to
the economy as the main reason why she is seeking another
The economy will be the administration’s toughest
selling point to African Americans. The rate of unemployment
for African Americans is twice the national average.
Jobs and the economy top the list of concerns for African
Americans from the political action committee’s
survey. Conversely, Sen. John Kerry’s economic
plan seems to be gaining support within black communities,
which have been devastated by the loss of jobs.
“Given the fact that there is no economic recovery.
Blacks will not vote for Bush in the numbers that (the
Republicans) think,” said Sampson. “If the
choice is to vote for one that ignores you or one that
takes you for granted, the option for some blacks will
be to stay at home.”
Welch disagrees: “One of the things we’ve
noticed is African Americans know that there is too
much riding on this election to stay at home.”
Felix Lloyd, a 65-year-old consultant for Future View
International, says that in 1974 he switched from the
Democratic to the Republican Party, saying the inconsistency
within the Democratic Party was the reason.
“The Republicans are clear about what they want,”
Lloyd says. He maintains that access to capital is the
chief concern for African Americans, but the Democrats
do not address it enough. “Blacks need to build
capital and the Republicans are giving us a chance with
programs like the president’s Faith Based Initiative.”
Welch acknowledged some of the shortfalls of his party:
“There is no one claiming the Democrats are perfect.
We are not going to stop working. Our relationship (with
African Americans) is not an election-year alliance.
It goes back decades.”
With a lot riding on this election, it will not be
unusual to see both parties call on the African American
community for support. Many African Americans are seeking
alternative options to what they have called “Democratic
Whether African Americans’ dissatisfaction will
manifest in votes for the Republicans remains to be