African American voters may play a crucial role in determining a number of contests in Tuesday's mid-term elections. Political analysts say despite efforts by Republicans to woo them, African-Americans remain the Democratic Party's most reliable constituency.
Black voters overwhelmingly supported Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000, giving George Bush a paltry eight percent of their ballots. Mr. Bush's inability to win a large percentage of African American votes, came despite clear indications that if elected, he planned to appoint blacks to key government posts, including Secretary of State and National Security Advisor.
David Bositis is a scholar at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington research institute that focuses on the concerns of African-Americans. He recently completed a survey showing that only only 12 percent of blacks plan to support Republican candidates in the upcoming mid-term elections. He says there are several reasons that African-Americans remain loyal Democrats and give the Republican party only scant hope of improving its standing. "The Democratic Party is the party that represents poor and working-class people more than the Republicans do," said David Bositis. "And the African-American population is more working-class than the white population."
In fact, Mr. Bositis says jobs and the economy matter to black voters even more than national security issues like terrorism or war with Iraq. He says even though most blacks have a high personal opinion of President Bush, only 39 percent support his job performance, well below the roughly 70 percent approval rating he enjoys in the electorate as a whole.
Black voter turnout may prove crucial in a number of close Senate, House and gubernatorial races. Pollsters say that for the past 10 to 12 years, no party has been able to claim a clear majority of the electorate. Voters remain about evenly divided between the Republican Party, which enjoys strong support in rural areas and in the business community, and the Democrats, who are traditionally allied with labor and claim stronger support among women, and ethnic minorities.
David Bositis says the Democratic party needs the strong support of black voters if they want to offset Republican Party advantages. But he says black voters will not have the same impact everywhere. "In some states, like Georgia or in Maryland, African-Americans are more than a quarter of the population and if they turn out roughly in their numbers in the population, that is sufficient for Democrats to win," he said. "In other states, like Florida, African-Americans are about 13 percent. For the Democrats to win statewide, they would have to be over-represented at the polls."
Mr. Bositis predicts that overall voter turnout will be below 50 percent this year, as it usually is for mid-term elections. However, Washington-based black civic activist Melanie Campbell says local issues have the power to boost black turnout in certain states. Some issues did just that in both 1998 and 2000. "In Alabama, I think that they had an issue on the ballot where they wanted to utilize the lottery to help pay for education," he said. "In 2000, one of the things that impacted turnout in Florida - what happened the year before the election, which was the issue and attack on Affirmative Action."
Nationwide, African-Americans make up approximately 10 percent of the electorate and Democrats are hoping a large turnout will help tilt the election balance in their favor.