How Republicans Should Go About Getting the Black Vote

Rand Paul's stances on drug laws and sentencing reform should hold a natural appeal for black voters. Photo by Christopher Halloran/
Rand Paul’s stances on drug laws and sentencing reform should hold a natural appeal for black voters.
Photo by Christopher Halloran/

If you want a sense of how much black voters dislike the GOP, consider this: Both Mitt Romney and John McCain scored single digits with blacks, 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively. The last time this happened, it was 1964 and the Republican presidential nominee—Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater—had pledged his opposition to the bulk of the Civil Rights Act, driving blacks out of the party just four years after they gave Richard Nixon a sizable minority in his presidential bid.

Put another way, the last time Republicans were this unpopular with black Americans, their nominee had sided with white supremacists. Which is to say, the party has a serious image problem, to say nothing of an electoral one.

If blacks were dispersed throughout the country, or concentrated in a handful of red and blue states—like Latinos and Asians—the GOP’s disadvantage wouldn’t mean much. But most blacks live in the South and the areas around it, which includes a large number who live in swing states—like Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio—as well as potential swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. What’s more, the huge Democratic advantage means that any black voter at the polls is a Democratic voter. In those states, as long as there’s average or high turnout, black voters have an outsized effect on the popular vote. In 2012, for instance, Obama won several states by substituting new black voters for lost white ones. What’s more, his popular vote margin in Ohio can be explained solely by higher black turnout.

Imagine a world where Mitt Romney won the votes of 9 or 10 percent of black Americans, in line with the GOP’s historic performance with blacks since 1964. In that world, given the geography of the black vote, there’s a good chance Romney is president, having deprived Obama of needed votes in Ohio, Virginia, and Florida.

For the GOP, then, African-American outreach is critical, and according toBuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins, the Republican National Committee has developed a strategy for competing for the black vote: meeting with local black leaders, recruiting black politicians, and attacking black voices in media.

If your reaction to the last item is a raised eyebrow, you’re not alone. To rational ears, that sounds counterproductive. But the RNC believes it can work. To wit, after a dismissive tweet from Jamilah Lemieux, senior editor for Ebony, to Raffi Williams, a staffer with the RNC, Republicans escalated the online conflict, and Chairman Reince Priebus demanded an apology. Here’s BuzzFeed with more:

RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer later said their decision to escalate the flap with Ebony was meant to show black voters that Republicans took their votes seriously. “This was not meant to be provocative,” Spicer told BuzzFeed. “What this was really about was letting the readers of a very prominent African-American magazine know the Republican Party is fighting for their vote.”

In reality, BuzzFeed notes, this rallied readers to Ebony, with a vocal hashtag—#StandWithJamilah—and thousands of tweets. Which makes sense. You don’t appeal to voters with antagonism. Otherwise, 2012 would have ended in a landslide of Latino support for Mitt Romney, driven by vocal calls for “self-deportation” and draconian laws against immigration. Indeed, if there’s anyone who responds well to attacks on black media figures—which includes a well-publicized scuffle between the RNC and Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC—it’s the most resentful Republican voters, who listen to Limbaugh and cheer attacks on “race baiters.”

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Source: Slate | 

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