Jeb Bush drew a contrast between the Republican and Democratic parties last week by saying that the GOP's message "isn't one of division and 'Get in line and we'll take care of you with free stuff.' " After some controversy, Bush tried to reframe his comments over the weekend.
Speaking with Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace on Sunday, the Republican presidential candidate didn't completely reject the implication of his statement. "I think we need to make our case to African American voters and all voters that an aspirational message — fixing a few big, complex things — will allow people to rise up," he said. "That's what people want. They don't want free stuff. That was my whole point."
The suggestion remains that Democrats explicitly offer "free stuff" to get black votes.
The idea that the left earns support from African Americans with giveaways, of course, is not unique to Bush — or to Mitt Romney, who said something similar in 2012. After Romney's comments, The Washington Post asked Americans why they thought black voters were more likely to support Democrats. The responses are below. (Two important notes. First, these are unweighted, and grouped response counts, not percentages. Second, the most common response for each party was "no opinion.")
Beyond "don't know," the most common response from Republicans was something about "free stuff." No Democrats made that argument — although the party's support for social programs, the second-most-common Republican response, was the sixth-most-common response from Democrats. (And it's not hard to draw a rhetorical line from social programs to "free stuff.")
On Friday, we looked at the lack of evidence for this position, including that there's no correlation between the use of government programs and electoral results. (And that other forms of government largess, such as tax breaks for corporations or Social Security, don't prompt a similar party-loyalty response from people.)
Part of this sentiment is likely a result of the fact (and the emphasis of the fact) that use of federal assistance increased under President Obama. Food stamp and temporary assistance program enrollment spiked after he came into office — in large part because the economy had collapsed. (This led Newt Gingrich to call Obama the "food-stamp president" when Gingrich was running for president in 2012.) Layer on top of that conservative critique of the Affordable Care Act, which expanded Medicaid for low-income Americans, and a focus on a long-standing program to offer reduced-price phones to low-income households.
Most low-income Americans are white, because most Americans are white. But the idea that black Americans support Democrats and Obama because of those programs seems to run deep on the right, as the survey above shows.
In other words, Bush is saying something that a lot of Republican and independent voters believe — something that they had on the tips of their tongues when pollsters called in 2012.