Could President Bush receive a surprisingly large black turnout on Election Day? Considering recent history, the idea sounds about as likely as pop star Michael Jackson receiving a Man of the Year Award from the Children’s Defense Fund. But elections can produce unexpected results. That’s why we hold them.
This week I found myself blinking my eyes in disbelief over two major polls that showed a big bump for Bush among likely black voters.
A New York Times poll released Tuesday showed that among likely voters, 47 percent support Bush, 45 percent are for Sen. John Kerry and 2 percent for Ralph Nader.
But in the race breakdown, the Bush-Cheney ticket is buoyed by an amazing 17 percent from African-Americans. (Kerry receives 76 percent of the black voters and Nader only 1 percent.)
Although 17 percent is still less than one in five, it is more than twice the tiny 8 percent turnout that the Bush-Cheney ticket received in the 2000 election.
Also on Tuesday, a poll with a much larger sample of black voters was released by the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a leading think tank on black-oriented issues. It showed a very similar African-American boost for the Bush-Cheney ticket: 18 percent versus 69 for Kerry and 2 percent for Nader.
I don’t think the Black vote is going to come out in the type of numbers Senator Kerry is going to need. African-Americans certainly don’t like President Bush, but they are unenthusiastic about Kerry and that will hurt the Democrats on the margins.
Michael Johnson believes that the country would be “absolutely” better off with President Bush out of the White House.
“He’s the most inept president I’ve ever seen in my lifetime,” Johnson, an independent who lives in Normandy, Mo., said in an interview last week.
But Johnson has been so underwhelmed by Democratic challenger John F. Kerry that he said he is considering skipping over the presidential ballot when he goes to the polls Nov. 2. It is a vote that Kerry cannot afford to lose, especially in a battleground state.
“Kerry does not have the charisma, and his platform does not excite me,” Johnson said, complaining that Kerry has been so preoccupied fighting with Bush over the war in Iraq and terrorism that the Massachusetts senator has ignored the economic and domestic issues that are important to Johnson’s struggling community just outside St. Louis.
Johnson’s frustrations were voiced by other African Americans in recent interviews and could be a pitfall for Kerry, who needs an energized Democratic base as he heads into the final weeks of the campaign. African Americans are among the party’s most loyal voting groups, but festering dissatisfaction with Kerry’s message and tepid interest in the race could cause many of them to stay away from the polls.
Black voters stayed home in significant enough numbers in 2002 that Democrats in South Carolina, North Carolina, Missouri, Texas, Georgia and Arkansas lost — in large part because they neglected issues that matter to African Americans and focused, instead, on courting white conservative voters.
In two Washington Post-ABC News polls last month, 79 percent of black voters said they preferred Kerry, compared with 38 percent of white voters. But less than half of the black voters who support Kerry said they were “very enthusiastic” about his candidacy.
While Democrats have long claimed to be the party of greater inclusiveness, this year President Bush may argue that his administration is more diverse at senior levels than John Kerry’s would be.
Seizing on the nation’s diversity — the country is almost one-third non-white — Bush has appointed African-Americans, Asians, Latinos and women to senior and non-stereotypical roles: Secretary of State, national security adviser, Transportation Secretary, White House Counsel.
Unlike Al Gore whose campaign manager, political director and finance director were African-American, the Kerry campaign, as of yet, has no one of color in the innermost circle, including Kerry’s campaign manager, campaign chairperson, media adviser, policy director, foreign policy adviser, general election manager, convention planner, national finance chairman, and head of VP search team.
That’s an odd position for a campaign that will probably rely on African-Americans and Hispanics for one in four of their general election votes and the crucial margin of difference in battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.
Though Kerry could claim that a campaign team and administration are two different things, that kind of defense might not wash with voters.
All of this points to a Kerry campaign that has not closed the deal with a lot of black voters. It’s not that Bush is terribly popular among blacks; in fact, he’s quite unpopular. But Kerry has not given blacks a reason to vote for him, other than simply as a way to oppose Bush.
If Bush doubles his 2000 performance with black voters, he is going to win. Going from 8% to 16% support among the tens of millions of black voters will surely swing some close (and Electoral Vote-rich) states in his favor.
Jesse Jackson is now a part of the Kerry campaign. Maybe he will be able to shave a few points off of Bush’s percentage of black support. We will see, 13 days from today…Powered by Sidelines