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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Blacks and the 2004 Election

Yesterday’s New York Times had a front-page story on Kerry and Gore seeking to mobilize black voters for the Democratic ticket. No doubt they are and for good reason. The more black voters that show up on election day, the better for John Kerry.
More controversial is the story’s assertion, based on a recent national poll of African-Americans by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, that Bush is generating much more support among blacks than he did in 2000.
Now it is true that the Joint Center’s poll has Bush’s support among blacks at 18 percent, double the 9 percent the Joint Center recorded in their 2000 poll. It is also far more than the support the 2000 exit poll found for Bush (8 percent) and the average support Republican presidential candidates in the last three elections (10 percent).
But how credible is their 18 percent figure? Not very, in my view. Or in the view of Cornell Belcher, a pollster who focuses on African-Americans, who, according to the Times story:

said his surveys in battleground states showed Mr. Bush in single digits. Nationally, Mr. Belcher said, he has found only 10 percent of blacks approve even “somewhat” of Mr. Bush’s job performance, while 89 percent say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

So who’s right? I think Belcher is. The overwhelming evidence from public polls is that Bush’s support among blacks is running very close to where it was in 2000 and not even in shouting distance of the Joint Center’s 18 percent figure. Consider these data, which I managed to ferret out from various polling sources:
1. A July poll of black RVs by BET/CBS News had Bush’s support at 10 percent.
2. Bush’s black support in the last week of WP/ABC tracking polls has been averaging 9 percent.
3. Bush’s average black support in the last four Pew polls has been 9 percent.
4. Bush’s average black support in the last week of national Zogby tracking polls has been 8 percent.
5. Bush’s support among black RVs averaged only 7 percent in three October Gallup polls.
Sounds like Bush can expect his black support in 2004 to closely resemble his black support in 2000.
Of course, defenders of the Joint Center poll might point out that, outside of the BET/CBS poll, it has a much larger sample size than the various subsamples averaged above. But larger sample size, by itself, doesn’t make the Joint Center estimate “better”. It merely means that, all else equal, the Joint Center estimate should have less random sampling error than any single estimate based on one of the national subsamples. But the various subsample estimates taken together–and, cumulatively, we’re talking about estimates based on thousands and thousands of black voters–should be relatively free of random sampling error and close to Bush’s true support level among blacks.
So the fact that all these various polls are finding Bush’s black support running in a very tight band between 7-10 percent is a sign that the Joint Center poll is off, not everbody else.
What could account for the Joint Center’s anomalous finding? Who knows, but one possibility is the way they asked the question:
“Suppose the 2004 Presidential election were being held today. Among the three major nominees, George W. Bush, John Kerry and Ralph Nader, who would you like to see win?”
This is, to say the least, a very strange way to ask a trial heat question. It doesn’t actually ask who the respondent is going to vote for, but rather who they “would like to see win” the election (possibly misheard by some respondents as simply who “would win” the election). The question also does not mention the partisan affiliation of the candidates so respondents do not receive the partisan cues of Democrat for Kerry (presumably less well-known among black voters than Gore) and Republican for Bush. Taken together, these wording problems may have led to enough confusion on the part of inattentive voters to create an unusually high support number for Bush.
I don’t know if that’s right. But I do know the Joint Center figure should not be taken seriously. The key task for the Democrats is, and will remain, mobilizing high numbers of black voters to go to the polls, not convincing them to vote for Kerry over Bush.

20 comments on “Blacks and the 2004 Election

  1. molotov on

    Given that the JCPES poll correctly predicted in 2000 that Bush would get 9% of the black vote, I wouldn’t discard the research too quickly. And Kerry badly trails where Al Gore was at this point in 2000 among black voters.
    Bush won’t get 18%, but he’ll get 12-15%. That’s enough to deny victory to Kerry. Especially since folks in my family and others – who normally vote Democratic – are voting for Bush this year because of liberals’ stance on abortion and ESPECIALLY gay marriage. Many folks – and yes, older folks who are likelier to vote – are concerned by what they view as liberals’ moral bankruptcy on issues disproportionately facing black communities.

  2. Observer on

    An article on cell phone users political demographics and behaviors:
    As part of its political survey, CEA called 568 people on their home phones and found that more self-identified Democrats (44 percent) than Republicans (27 percent) are likely to screen their phone calls by either checking their voicemail or looking for a familiar number using caller ID services. Moreover, Democrats (35 percent) are more likely than Republicans (24 percent) to answer “most” of their incoming calls at home with their cell phones.
    Not surprisingly, CEA found that Republicans are 25 percent more likely than Democrats to have responded to at least one political poll.
    However, SMS users (in the US, anyway), lean to the right:
    In a survey of 52,427 people across the country, SMS.ac, a wireless company in San Diego, said last week that if the elections were held then, President Bush would have beaten Kerry 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent. Unlike CEA’s survey results, though, SMS.ac found that 40 percent of its users were over the age of 25 and tended to be on-the-go professionals. Also, they are avid mobile text users.
    The company said it sent a short text message to people’s cell phones and received a response in return. But the company did not include “undecided” as an option, nor was there any way to verify that all its respondents were eligible voters.

  3. Edwarg Garratt on

    Bush is currently in Michigan meeting with Black Leaders. The way he shunned them over the past 4 years is suddenly “an issue” for him (?).

  4. Jim E. on

    MyDD is reporting a rumor that CBS/NYTimes is not releasing a poll showing Kerry +4 in Florida because it’s out of line with other polling (such as Gallup). Is there any truth to this?? Is this a common practice — to hold back what are considered whacky poll results?? (Obviously it’s not a common practice for Gallup…)

  5. Scotttac76 on

    Another problem with the Join Center poll is that it took over two weeks to field. Thats a ridiculous amount of time even for a specialized sample that large.

  6. Ben Ross on

    The alleged new support for Bush among blacks comes from older, female, socially conservative voters. If Bush support from younger black voters is holding around 10%, for his total support among blacks to be 18%, he would need to get at least 25% or 30% of the votes of older black women.
    I find it totally unbelievable that Bush is getting one vote out of four among black women who grew up in the era of segregation.

  7. Hanna on

    Hiya Ruy,
    I saw you today on Democracy Now! and you brought me here to see what you are up to. Wonderful stuff! You are very right that the Democrats should worry less about who is going to vote for whom and simply stand by our principles and get people out to vote and not worry so much who people are going to vote for (within reason, obviously it’ll be better for the whole world if Bush is driven out of the office in shame).
    Keep up the good work, please!
    (And for anyone who wants to know how to pronounce Ruy’s name, check out Wednesday’s Democracy Now! 😉 )

  8. John on

    The news organizations chatter on about how Bush has “doubled his numbers” amoung black voters. Then they never mention the raw numbers. It’s another tactic to mislead in order to try to create an aura of momentum torward Bush. The underlying message from the minders of Right-wing Group-Think is that you won’t be part of the rising tide againts Kerry, so youl’d better go along with all your neighbors who have seen the light and vote BC.
    I also think the Republicans are counting on their tactics of voter suppression to work. See the story the BBC is running here:

  9. Bob H on

    Will those purported 18% be reacting well to the various Republican efforts to disallow registrations in black areas in Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere? This 18% number is preposterous.

  10. Justin on

    Hey everyone,
    Go to http://www.bbc.co.uk. Along the right side there is a box for “BBC News: Video and Audio” the title is “New Florida Vote Scandal Feared”.
    It’s an expose of disenfranchisement in Florida captured on tape. The center piece is a professional black guy who was disenfranchised in the 2000 election. At the polls they told him he was a criminal, even though he’d never been arrested. This year he was also listed as a criminal, but when the BBC cameras showed up his status was magically changed and he was allowed to vote. They also capture a private investigator hired to film black at the polls, although he “doesn’t remember who he was hired by”. They also get a copy of the “caging lists” or lists of voters (mostly black), who’s addresses are supposedly wrong so aren’t allowed to vote. They also go into how the republicans have mobilized a bunch of people to be at the polls to challenge voters.
    The republicans are so disgusting!

  11. bruhrabbit on

    I posted else where on your site about Black voters b/c as a Black guy it is an issue important to me. What I am about to say is not based on polling, but gut instinct of why I have a problem with the polling with one caveat. I will begin with the caveat.
    The caveat is the evangelical/Christian African American vote, and the issue of gay marriage. The numbers may reflect a percentage of AAs who have decided to become one issue voters, and to quote one AA preacher, he would rather “vote for the KKK, than support gay marriage.” However, there is a problem with that caveat- AAs are not single issue voters. We maybe loyal to one party out of historical and present belief that one party is more likely to protect our interests, but we aren’t making this determination based on one interest.
    This leads me back to my gut instincts (I have no polling proof that the poll is wrong other than the statements of Jessie Jackson commenting on how the same group back in 2000 made similar predictions about Al Gore, and were obviously off- assuming that this is the same poll, and I believe it is).
    What would be the basis of a ten to fifteen percent shift to Bush? This is where the poll makes zero sense. The war on terrorism? No, I will bet if you did a poll of most AAs they are much more skeptical of the war on terror by the government than other groups in part b/c of our experience with the war on drugs. Iraq? No, we see the same news as everyone else. The economy or health care? Again, no on both fronts. The numbers for AAs under Bush in terms of the economy and healthcare are horrible.
    I believe the poll, if it is to be taken at face value, reflects the fact that the voters had not warmed up to Kerry or knew who he was b/c unlike Clinton Kerry does not produce the same level of intensity among AAs. I believe the influence of Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson, the Congressional Black Caucus, multiple hip hop stars (Chuck D, Russel Simons, P Diddy etc), Bill Clinton and others will have shifted this. Kerry appearing in church almost every Sunday will have changed this. Bush, himself, will have changed this by debating Kerry.
    Finally, don’t underestimate just how pissed off many voters are by the attempts by the Republicans to suppress the vote. It’s not just in Florida, but also in other critical battle ground states. This drama is disproportionately affecting the AA vote. It plays into our historical sense that when the chips are down, this country will abridge our right to vote and everything else. This is a powerful historical memory. A lot of black media, especially on the radio and on shows, are discussing this. Literally, even more mainstream shows like Girlfriends on UPN have their stars wearing MTV t-shirts saying vote or die. So, my 2 cents? Expect not just the same percentage of AAs in 2000, but also expect a record number of turn out.

  12. Sara on

    Ruy, I totally agree — the wording of the question leaves much doubt regarding the desired response — will You vote, and for which candidate?
    I’ve always believed the Black vote and the reasons why it breaks down as it does is much more thoroughly reflected in the Editorial Endorsements in Black Newspapers than what one would expect of editorial endorsements in major daily papers. Black editorial writers addressing a nearly all black audience are far more direct and clear about rational for delivering votes one way or another in terms of group political interests. Some of those interests can be fairly obscure to the non-Black reader, but they are frequently significant to most Black voters. What would be interesting in terms of polling Blacks would be to see these editorial selections tested, and ranked.

  13. dan on

    That is a strange question indeed. A very knowledgeable, very practical voter might well say he or she “wants” Ralph Nader to win, while voting for (and working for) John Kerry. How did Nader do in that poll?

  14. thatcoloredfella on

    Thanks Ruy, for supplying a link to this poll that seems to be on the lips of every Bush surrogate I see on TV. As a regular reader, a Black man and a political blogger, maybe I can give some insight.
    I confidently believe the 18 percent aberration can be traced back to one survey question on Gay Marriage. I blogged a while back about groups such as the American Family Council venturing for the first time into the Black community, looking for support against Gay Marriage.
    They went looking in Black churches, hoping to exploit the ignorance and intolerance most older Blacks have concerning homosexuality. This group traditionally has the highest voter turnout and have been restless of late. They are dismayed by the moral decline in their community, and are looking for others to blame. Being actively courted by such social Conservatives groups, is a stark contrast to a feeling of being taken for granted, by the Democrats.
    And, I am not surprised that such an act of political rebellion, was expressed in this survey. (I’d like to know how many of the +1600 surveyed were contacted by a national pollster?) They were able to express frustration and maybe get the Dem’s attention – but that’s as far as it will go.
    If, Gay Marriage was currently a hot button issue, maybe that high end number is feasible. But, you’re talking about lifelong, hardcore Democrats like my parents, who impressed upon their children the importance of voting. Hate is not enough of a reason to vote Republican.
    You have high profile Black Democrat U.S. Senate candidates in Illinois and Georgia, and signs that the younger generation is finally taking responsibility. The Black community is equally energized and for good reason.
    George Stephanopoulos recently revealed that Clinton got the least percentage of Black votes, compared to Gore, Mondale and Carter. (Clinton 75% Rest: +80%)
    Kerry may set another record.

  15. Armando on

    Of all the stupid things of many stupid things that have been said in this year’s political coverage, the notion that Bush might get 18% of the black vote takes the cake.
    You know and I know and they must know that no way in heck is that ever going to happen ever.
    And I don’t care if you line up 10 polls that tell me that – because, at some point in this loony year, common sense must intrude.


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