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Whither the Black Vote in 2016?

African Americans have truly come of age in national politics.

by
Patrick Reddy

Bio

December 4, 2012 - 10:47 pm
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These numbers have definite implications for national politics. As long as the black turnout remains this high (and with Hispanic voters increasing on a yearly basis due to simple demographics), Republicans at the national level may face insurmountable odds.  Democratic vote margins of 16 million among blacks, 7 million among Hispanics, and 2 million among Asian/Pacific Islanders & Native Americans would put any GOP nominee 25 million votes behind.

Could the 2016 Republican ticket make up that 25 million vote deficit with older white voters? It would be extremely difficult, but theoretically possible. Mitt Romney carried the white vote by 59-40%. Raising his share of the white vote three points to 62% would have swung Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and New Hampshire into the GOP column, giving Romney the presidency with exactly 270 votes.

Has any Republican presidential candidate ever reached 62% of the white vote? Yes, exactly two men have: President Nixon won 67% in 1972 and President Reagan won 64% in 1984. So it can be done. However, these were incumbents who won the two greatest landslides in the history of the two-party system dating back to 1856 — 49 out of 50 states. For Republicans to count on consistently matching those two unprecedented performances is too risky.

The good news for Republicans is that they may have other options: one is to hope that racial voting eases in 2016 and that the black turnout is lower. That is an excellent possibility, unless the Democrats can come up with another candidate who matches Obama’s drawing power among blacks. Since Obama won over 4 million more black votes than Kerry, we can properly call this an “ethnic pride” vote that will be tough for any other Democrat to replicate in the future.  As Nate Cohn wrote in The New Republic:

If black turnout returns to 11 percent of the electorate and the next Democratic candidate only wins 90 percent of the black vote, there’s room for a shift of a net-4 million votes in the GOP’s direction. Whether those 4 million voters stay home or return to their Republican-lean from eight years ago could easily decide a close presidential election, especially in states like Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

An even better strategy for the Republican Party would be to find a candidate who can cut into the massive Democratic black base. Any defections among minorities would count twice: one out of the Democrat Party and one into the Republican Party.

As Jonathan Capehart reported in the Washington Post, a special pre-election poll by the NAACP showed that a Republican candidate who strongly supported civil rights would have increased the Republican vote in the black community from 3% to nearly 15%, thus helping win the election. And the same survey showed even greater gains for the Republicans if they put a black candidate on their ticket.

Who among 21st century Republicans might especially appeal to black voters?

Ever since General Colin Powell’s star turn in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Republican Party Regulars have hoped that he would join a national ticket. But Mr. Powell resolutely refused to run for office and would be nearly 80 in 2016. (He also disappointed his fellow Republicans by endorsing Obama twice.). However, his successor as secretary of State, Condi Rice, has remained a strong Republican critic of Obama, giving a well-received speech at the 2012 GOP Convention. Might a Rice nomination for vice president offer the promise of big Republican gains?

Ms. Rice would be something of a gamble for Republicans: she’s never run for any office and is conspicuously moderate on social issues like abortion and gay rights.  However, if she boosted the Republican share of the black vote to 12-15% like the NAACP survey suggested, that would add two million more votes to the GOP, thus helping greatly to carry swing states like Florida and Ohio. Some social conservatives would oppose her. But if Condi Rice can deliver two million black votes to the GOP ticket, plus surely some moderate whites in urban areas, thus tipping the balance to the GOP, that would quiet the grumblings of most conservatives.

When the Protestant Henry of Navarre converted to Catholicism in order to become king of France, he famously declared that “Paris is well worth a Mass.”  Perhaps for Republicans in 2016, winning the White House might be well worth putting a moderate, pro-choice black woman on the ticket.

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Patrick Reddy is a political consultant and co-author of California After Arnold. He is now writing 21st Century America: How Suburbanites, Immigrants and High Tech Voters Will Choose Our Presidents.
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