Shifting Electorate Shows Challenges in Selma

A sign in Selma, Ala., commemorating the landmark civil rights march to Montgomery.Credit Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A sign in Selma, Ala., commemorating the landmark civil rights march to Montgomery.Credit Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

This weekend’s 50th anniversary of the landmark Selma, Ala., civil rights march calls to mind a famous line of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The arc of the political universe is also long. And President Obama’s Saturday visit to Selma will highlight the ways it has bent since Bloody Sunday helped inspire passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Since President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, signed it into law, there have been 12 presidential elections. Republicans have won seven of them – and carried the white vote in all 12. Democrats have won five, including Mr. Obama’s 2008 breakthrough fueled by overwhelming support from African-Americans as well as Latinos.

But Mr. Obama hasn’t come close to breaking through in the state where law enforcement officers attacked protesters at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

While blacks have grown as a share of the Alabama electorate, support for Democratic presidential candidates among the state’s white majority has collapsed. The 27 percent Michael Dukakis received from Alabama whites in 1988, exit polls showed, fell to 19 percent for John Kerry in 2004. Mr. Obama drew just 15 percent of Alabama whites.

That tiny share, like the 10 percent Mr. Obama received from whites in neighboring Mississippi, places some Deep South states out of reach. Outside the Old Confederacy, Mr. Obama did vastly better among whites while carrying such battlegrounds as Wisconsin (48 percent), Colorado (44 percent) and Pennsylvania (42 percent).

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Source: The New York Times | John Harwood

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