Why Black Voters Are Critical for the GOP

New York Times

If there's a corollary to the idea that GOP reform is unnecessary, it's that further outreach is less important than advertised. A little less turnout from minorities, and a little more support from whites, and you have a President Romney.

With that said, if Republicans are going to invest in new outreach, they should at least make smart decisions about it. So far, the collective opinion of the Republican Party is that it needs to win Latino votes in order to become competitive again. In the long-term, as Latinos become a growing portion of the American electorate, that's probably true. In the short-term, however, it's not clear Republicans are well-served by focusing on Hispanic voters.

Remember, Latino attachment to the Democratic Party goes beyond immigration—Latino voters are more liberal than the median American, favoring greater government intervention in the economy. To win a significant portion of Latino voters, Republicans would have to moderate on core issues, and risk blowback from stalwart conservatives and other members of the GOP base. What's more, in terms of the Electoral College, Latinos are concentrated in states that either give high support to Republicans—Arizona and Texas—or high support for Democrats—California and Nevada. There are few swing states with Latino populations large enough such that a national swing of 5 to 10 points would make the difference between winning and losing.

By contrast, if Republicans to get the most bank for their buck—in terms of outreach—they could do worse than to try to recover their position with black voters. Remember, Obama's entire margin of victory in states like Ohio and Virginia can be attributed his overwhelming advantage among black voters, who went to the polls at an incredibly high rate. If black voters lived in a swing state, they went to the polls. And if they went to the polls, they voted for the president.

Winning 10 or 11 percent of those voters in each state—instead of just 2 or 3 percent—would be a huge gain. It would tighten the race in Virginia and Ohio, keep Florida more secure, and take North Carolina off of the table. Moreover, it's doable, given the extent to which there is almost certainly a constituency for the current Republican message within the black community (or rather, various black communities).

The problem is that for the last four years, the conservative message has been married to—or at least, associated with—a rabid hostility to Barack Obama that reads as prejudiced to many African Americans. Put another way, respect goes a long way in politics and Republicans haven't done much to show respect to black voters, opting instead to capitalize on old stereotypes (see: Romney's "welfare" ads). It's not a good strategy to deliberately antagonize a key group of voters.

With that said, if Republicans could adjust their rhetoric, make serious outreach, and—perhaps—capitalize on working-class black discontent with immigration reform, they could see their numbers improve. And given high black turnout, just winning 10 to 13 percent of African Americans voters—the historic average for Republican presidential candidates since Reagan—would put Republicans in a much better position for national elections.

If I were a GOP strategist, my main focus would be this—winning black voters. Ceding them to Democrats is a great recipe for further failure.

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