The Myth Of Minority "Natural Republicans"

[Also by W. James Antle III Iraq Newsflash–The Nation-State Lives!]

When Arnold Schwarzenegger won the California recall election with some 30 percent of the Hispanic vote, there was the usual commentary predicting that we are just one amnesty away from an emerging Hispanic Republican majority…even though Schwarzenegger's positions on immigration-related issues, as far as they could be determined, were the sort that are supposed to repel Hispanics—and even though the exit polls showed his victory to be more of a validation of the Sailer Strategy than Karl Rove's fantasies.

 After all, the usual commentators say, don't Hispanics' family values, Roman Catholic faith, pro-life views and general social conservatism make them "natural Republicans?"

In fact, of course, there are reasons to doubt Hispanic social conservatism. But, beyond that, the assumption that minorities who prefer traditional morality will necessarily vote Republican is itself erroneous.

Just look at American blacks and gay marriage—most the controversial social issue being debated in America right now (with the possible exception of immigration). The U.S. Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas decision and the recent Goodridge ruling by the Massachusetts State Supreme Court increase the likelihood that existing legal barriers to gay marriage will prove inadequate. This will force a pitched political battle, quite possibly in time for the 2004 presidential election.

But it isn't just the courts that are driving gay marriage. So too is public opinion, which is far more divided on the subject than it was when the debate first hit the national scene back in 1996. Polls show that support for gay marriage is rising among key demographic groups (although there are some signs that a backlash against judicial activism could change that).

There are, however, two notable exceptions to this trend. According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the two groups that remain the most strongly opposed to gay marriage are: white evangelical Protestants—and blacks.

In fact, opposition among both groups has hardly budged at all from 1996 levels. In 1996, 84 percent of white evangelicals opposed gay marriage; 83 percent do today. Similarly, 65 percent of African-Americans opposed gay marriage in 1996 compared to 64 percent today. A Gallup poll also found blacks opposed to gay marriage by 65 percent to 28 percent.

Civil rights leader Walter Fauntroy, a former aide to Martin Luther King, Jr. and cofounder of the Congressional Black Caucus, has endorsed the federal marriage amendment, which is intended to prevent judge-imposed legalization of same-sex marriage. Sitting with him on the board of advisors of the Alliance for Marriage are several leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a bishop of the Church of God in Christ, two of the largest predominantly black denominations in the United States. Ray Hammond, president of the Ten Point coalition, an ecumenical group focused on issues pertaining to black and Hispanic youths in the Boston area, testified in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage before the Massachusetts state senate subcommittee on the Constitution.

And gay marriage is not the only social issue where blacks side with conservatives. According to an ABC News/Beliefnet poll that found overall public support for legal abortion at its lowest level since 1995, blacks are more likely than whites to be opposed. Blacks were also more likely to oppose embryonic stem-cell research. A bare 48 percent plurality of blacks favored such research while 44 percent were opposed; among whites, the margin was 60 percent in favor and only 29 percent opposed. Polls have consistently found between 70 and 80 percent of blacks in favor of school prayer. Blacks are also more likely than whites to support the various permutations of school choice, including vouchers.

And on the National Question, 56 percent of California's blacks voted for Proposition 187, the attempt to deny illegal immigrants tax monies, in 1994. Nationally, blacks are among the strongest supporters of immigration reduction and making English the official language of the United States. On immigration, one can argue that blacks are more socially conservative than many Beltway social conservative mouthpieces.

 (For that matter, it is also fair to note that Hispanics and other minority groups hold more sensible positions on these issues than immigration enthusiasts generally give them credit for.)

Economist and nationally syndicated columnist Walter Williams, in his guest appearances on Rush Limbaugh's radio talk show, has been known to argue that blacks have more in common with and Jerry Falwell than white liberals, while Jesse Jackson and Maxine Waters have more in common with "white hippies." This should not be surprising. A majority of blacks are evangelical Protestants. Their churches are theologically similar to those that form the base of the Christian right.

But blacks nevertheless vote differently. In the 2000 presidential election, blacks voted 90 percent for Democrat Al Gore. Only 9 percent chose George W. Bush.

In 1996, the Republicans nominated Bob Dole, who during his long congressional career had voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Jack Kemp, one of the GOP's leading proponents of minority outreach. But they won only 12 percent of the black vote.

Moral: Blacks can watch the "700 Club" without voting with the Christian Coalition.

Instead, blacks have consistently voted for the most liberal Democrats, including Charles Rangel, Maxine Waters and John Conyers.

Even some blacks who espouse conservative social causes haven't exactly assumed the political profile of Alan Keyes. Fauntroy marched alongside Al Sharpton—who, by the way, is one of the few Democratic presidential candidates willing to endorse full gay marriage—in protest against President Bush's inauguration and denounced him as an illegitimate president. Similarly, Hammond's public opposition to gay marriage was so widely reported in the Boston press precisely because he had been so reliably liberal on most other issues throughout his career.

There's hardly a social conservative in the Congressional Black Caucus—Reps. Sanford Bishop of Georgia and Harold Ford of Tennessee will occasionally vote for late-term abortion bans—and not a single Republican. The last black Republican in Congress, J.C. Watts, did not join while Gary Franks is not likely to recall his membership as the most pleasant experience of his congressional service. Both Franks and Watts represented substantially white electorates. Although there may be a disconnect between the black political elite and most black voters on some issues, there isn't on party identification—blacks overwhelmingly identify as Democrats, while those identifying as Republicans range from 5 to 10 percent.

So why aren't blacks "natural Republicans"? Of course, there are complicated historical reasons for the dramatic shift of African-American voters from the party of Lincoln to the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt. But there are also a few simple reasons:

  • Bread-and-butter economics issues trump social issues. Democrats are the party most interested in protecting means-tested government income assistance programs, racial preferences and income redistribution. You can argue that blacks would be better off in the long run without preferential policies and welfare dependency. You would probably be right. But the simple fact is that many blacks benefit from such programs now. Asking them to vote against them is asking them to vote against their own perceived self-interest.

  • Identity politics. As the existence of the Congressional Black Caucus, NAACP and the Rainbow Coalition/Operation PUSH demonstrate, blacks have organized politically along racial lines. They tend to identify themselves as a distinct minority community. The multicultural Democrats are substantially better at cultivating black identity politics. Whatever its merits, conservative color-blind rhetoric doesn't seem to help. Many black voters perceive it as at best insincere, and at worst an attack on black cultural identity. Conservatives need to come up with a better response to identity politics than "cut it out."

  • Aspiration vs. reality. Black social conservatism hasn't ameliorated black social problems. For example, pro-life sentiments must be contrasted with the black abortion rate. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, black women are nearly three times as likely to undergo abortions as white women. [See Peter Brimelow's Charticle—PDF]. While 12 percent of the population, blacks account for more than 30 percent of abortions. Blacks also have lower marriage rates and, at 69 percent, the highest out-of-wedlock birth rate. The impact of this disconnect on black voting patterns is unclear.

I may be a more enthusiastic advocate of GOP minority outreach than some other VDARE.COM contributors. But I recognize that facts are facts. The example of black voters proves that it takes more than moral traditionalism to insure support for the Republican Party. To bring more Hispanics into the GOP, what is called for is a repeat of the policy that assimilated America's last Great Wave of immigrants and made Reagan Democrats, and eventually Bush Republicans, out of them: an immigration pause.

The very thing that we always hear will doom the Republican Party may be the one thing that can save it.

Or Republicans can simply wait patiently and hope that everyone who is more morally conservative than secular white social liberals will eventually pull the lever for them.

But the recent history of black voters suggests that they will be waiting a long time.

W. James Antle III (email him) is a senior editor for Enter Stage Right and a contributor to a number of other webzines.