Bush, Blacks and Iraq
War May Make It Tough for the President to Make Inroads With Minority Voters
By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2004; 10:09 AM
President Bush's campaign advisers sat down and crunched some numbers after the 2000 election and hypothesized that, because of the growth of minority populations, if whites and non-whites voted in the same proportions they did in the 2000 election, Democrats would win the White House by about three million votes in 2004.
This meant that if the president planned on serving two terms, he needed to get serious about broadening the Republican base —something he largely failed to do in 2000. While there was some improvement among Hispanic voters, Bush did worse among black voters than Bob Dole had done in 1996.
But with less than six months until Election Day, it appears that Bush's handling of the war in Iraq has reinforced among black voters some of the worst impressions of the Republican Party.
White Republicans frequently ask me why more blacks don't vote Republican. I have witnessed Fox News's Sean Hannity more than once berating an African American official on this subject, as if it were more of an accusation than a question.
Many black voters are culturally conservative, with strongly held Christian values that put them in line with the Republican Party, especially on issues such as same-sex marriage, school vouchers and partial privatization of Social Security. Yet on a host of other issues—from social justice to affirmative action to economic policy—black voters tend to go the other way. And Iraq is the latest example of a public policy on which many black voters simply find themselves on the polar opposite side from the GOP.
This week, Cornell Belcher, a black pollster based in Washington, D.C., who works for several progressive organizations, shared some startling numbers with me. He has been doing monthly polling in six key battleground states -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, Michigan and Nevada. Even as white voters nationwide have been moving toward negative feelings about the war, black voters have taken those feelings and supersized them.
Seventy-three percent of African Americans in those states disagree that the war in Iraq is worth the U.S. casualties there because the country is safer.
Sixty-three percent agree that America should cut its losses and pull out of Iraq right now.
And here's the real kicker. On the question of whether Bush intentionally misled the country, 77 percent agree at least somewhat.
Belcher doesn't have similar numbers for whites to compare, but all of those numbers are significantly worse for Bush than those found in recent national polls of both whites and blacks.
In the latest nationwide Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example, respondents were split 49-47 (a virtual tie, considering the margin of error) on the question of "considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?"
"Whites are beginning to move from being split on the war to opposing the war," Belcher said. "African Americans are soundly against the war and have been for some time."
With African Americans being such historically loyal Democratic voters, it may not be obvious why blacks would be a strategic focus for Bush. But with such a closely divided nation, swinging just a few votes could help. Some Republicans have demonstrated an ability to attract black votes with the right message. Even former senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who died last year, carried more than 20 percent of the black vote in some of his recent elections—and he was a former segregationist.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Iraq stands out because it is the nexus for a confluence of issues that include the economy, tax cuts, health care and education.
As the justifications for going to Iraq have evaporated, it has only served to underscore the deteriorating conditions in communities such as inner-city Baltimore, which Cummings represents. Cummings said that people in his district are asking why the nation is spending $200 billion on Iraq -- given the lack of weapons of mass destruction and proof that it was an imminent threat -- when the need to improve schools, access to health care and the crumbling infrastructure is so great.
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