June 16, 2004


Bush Shouldn't Write Off the Black Vote (JUAN WILLIAMS, 6/16/04, NY Times)

With a direct appeal, President Bush could win at least 20 percent of the black vote — and the White House.

How can he attract those votes?

First, the field is open. Compared with previous Democratic campaigns, Mr. Kerry's has done a poor job of reaching out to black voters. As Donna Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000, said recently, "Don't expect me to go out and say John Kerry is a great man and a visionary if you're not running ads on African-American or Hispanic cable networks. Fair is fair. So send my dad a postcard, send my sisters a bumper sticker." The Kerry campaign has also been notable for its lack of blacks and Hispanics among the candidate's top advisers. And Mr. Kerry has rarely been identified with issues that compel black voters — notably affirmative action.

Second, it's increasingly clear that blacks are no longer willing to vote as a bloc, automatically lining up with the Democrats. This is particularly true of younger black voters. A 2002 poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group based in Washington, found a shift in the political identification of black voters. For example, 34 percent of 18- to 25-year-old black voters identified themselves as independents. Overall, 24 percent of black Americans of all ages see themselves as independents — a four percentage point increase since the 2000 election. And now 10 percent of blacks call themselves Republican, a six percentage point rise since 2000.

Young black Americans seem ready for a forthright conversation about race and politics. While many older blacks responded with anger to Bill Cosby's recent call for poor black people to take more responsibility for their problems, the young people I encountered were uniformly supportive of Mr. Cosby's words.

It's worth noting that for this group, the president has an issue with considerable appeal: school vouchers. Despite strong opposition from civil rights leaders (and Democrats), 66 percent of blacks and 67 percent of Hispanics favor vouchers, according to a recent Newsweek poll. That is higher than the 54 percent of whites who say they want to see vouchers used to give students access to better schools.

Third, Mr. Bush has a network to make a pitch to black voters — the black church. Despite some bumps along the way, black churches remain generally enthusiastic about the president's faith-based initiative. The president has used his appearances before faith-based groups as a way to communicate with black Americans. It was no surprise that Mr. Bush used a speech to ministers to condemn Senator Trent Lott for expressing kind words about Strom Thurmond's segregationist past.

And then there is the president's top selling point with black voters — his track record of appointing minorities to top positions.

The real key for Mr. Bush is simply that after four years of seeing him in action black Americans should no longer fear him enough to turn out just to vote against him. Reduced black turnout would also devastate the Democrats' hopes of holding their open Senate seats in the South.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 16, 2004 5:23 PM

On what evidence has Bush written off the black vote?

He has courted it as assiduously as Humphrey or Clinton.

Courting the Congressional Black Caucus is not the same as courting the black vote, at least outside the Beltway.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 16, 2004 7:31 PM

Classic Juan Williams headline: imply something awful that isn't actually happening so you can be an expert.

Posted by: John Resnick at June 16, 2004 8:16 PM

Juan Williams would vomit if Bush won 20% of the black vote.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 16, 2004 9:34 PM