One of the striking things about President Obama’s position in this election, as noted by NBC News this morning, is his persistently high support among minority groups. He continues to win two-thirds of Latino voters, and almost 90 percent of African Americans.
This despite the fact that, among all demographic groups, African Americans were hit hardest by the Great Recession, and have seen the least improvement in the recovery. Unemployment among African Americans has hovered at 14 percent since 2009, and the wealth gap between blacks and whites has only grown. Over the last three years, black income has fallen by 11.1 percent — twice the 5.2 percent decline of white households — and the net worth of black households has fallen by huge amounts.
This raises a question: Why are African Americans so loyal to a president who hasn’t done much to improve their immediate economic situation? One answer, suggested by Associated Press writer Jesse Washington, is that it’s racial loyalty. He quotes one man as admitting that he supported Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008 because he was black.
The main problem with this explanation is that it ignores the reality of high African American support for Democrats. Over the last three decades, blacks have shown overwhelming support for Democratic candidates. Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry received more than 85 percent of the African American vote, with Dukakis hitting 90 percent. It’s true that Obama overperformed among African Americans — but that had more to do with the national mood; Obama overperformed with all voters.
Beyond that, “racial loyalty” doesn’t do much to explain the general relationship between black voters and black politicians. If African Americans were supporting Obama because he was black, you’d also expect them to show similar support for Allen West, Condoleeza Rice, Tim Scott, Herman Cain, and other black Republicans. Of course, the truth is that black Republicans have little support among African Americans: Which, again, speaks to the fact that blacks are Democratic partisans more than anything else.
Despite the scant evidence that racial loyalty drives African American political preferences, the idea continues to hold currency. There’s a lot of reasons for why that might be the case, but for now, I’ll offer one: When it comes to political issues, African Americans are still treated as a monolith. We saw that in the spring, when Barack Obama endorsed same-sex marriage and commentators wondered if he would lose support among them, and we’re seeing it now, as commentators attempt to explain strong black support for the president.
The fact of the matter, however, is that blacks — like all Americans — have various ideological concerns. And like Latinos, women and young people, this leads them to support the Democratic Party.