Oddly, neither political party reflects the values of black voters

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Kanye West’s recent tweets in support of President Donald Trump and Chance The Rapper’s corresponding tweet that “Black people don’t have to be Democrats” have revived the ongoing conversation in national politics about African American political views. Late last year, a Pew Research Center poll revealed interesting insights: a majority of African Americans consider themselves politically moderate (44 percent) or conservative (27 percent), with just over a quarter calling themselves politically liberal (26 percent). Those numbers can be puzzling, considering that almost 90 percent of blacks vote primarily Democrat.

The discrepancy between black political views and how we vote brings to mind two questions: Why don’t more African Americans vote for Republicans? And why aren’t our more moderate views represented in the Democratic Party? As political alignments shift and American partisan allegiances weaken, it would benefit people on both sides of the aisle to consider these questions more closely.

{mosads}Although the answer to the first question seems fairly obvious to me, I’ve found it to be confusing for many white conservatives. To be fair, from a purely ideological standpoint, it’d make sense for more than 10 percent of African Americans to vote Republican, especially black Christians with more socially conservative views. However, the matter is more complicated than simply checking ideological boxes.


Given the GOP’s ambiguous, at best, stance on racial issues, black people moving over to the Republican Party en masse would be a poor strategic decision. The truth is, the Republican Party has never fully divested itself of the vestiges of the Southern Strategy, which in the late 1960s and early ’70s invited segregationists into the party to secure a majority. Too many conservative elected officials and civic organizations still readily accept and are dependent on the votes and money of their less than racially tolerant constituents. This isn’t to suggest that all Republicans are racist or uninterested in improving race relations, but the party’s leadership still humors racist voters, especially during primary season.

This dynamic was revealed during the Trump campaign, and is the reason an embarrassing pol such as Roy Moore could win the Republican Senate primary in Alabama. The specter of blowback from the base is palpable every time a prominent Republican equivocates or stumbles over empathetic clichés when addressing atrocities caused by racial animus such as in Charlottesville. As long as the Republican Party continues to caucus with even a minority of racists, it cannot adequately address race issues in a way that gives many African American voters comfort. The party’s advocacy for state’s rights without addressing the historical discriminatory behavior of some states also is a significant obstacle for black voters looking for change.

The Republican Party’s trouble with African American voters is nothing new, but what has received a less thorough assessment is the second question. Why aren’t the more moderate and conservative views of blacks represented in the Democratic Party? If black voters are one of the party’s most loyal constituencies, then how can we make sense of the party moving to the furthest reaches of the left on social issues with little pushback?

Take a look at the difference in the Democratic Party platform in 2008 and 2016 and it’s clear the party has made a sharp leftward shift at warp speed. As a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 and 2016, I witnessed the party go from talking about abortion in terms of “safe, legal and rare” to what appeared to be a celebration of abortion as a social good. This change is reflected in rising black politicians. On a federal level, talented politicians such as Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, and on a state level, gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in Georgia, all feel the need to solidify their bona fides by staking out ultra-liberal positions on social issues. Such a posture is out of step with most of their black constituents but makes strategic sense because those moderate and conservative voices have been mum.

In addition to GOP race failures, the Democratic Party’s ability to veer to the extreme left on social issues without raising the ire of its more moderate black voters comes down to two things: Barack Obama and resources. While the Obama presidency was convincingly a net positive for black voters, his more liberal stances on social issues gave the far left an opportunity to move its agenda forward in unprecedented ways. The African American community was so focused on protecting our president from vitriolic conservatives that we fell completely silent on social issues and our party slid deeper into the clutch of secular-progressivism.

Under any other circumstances, black pastors, especially, would have presented a far greater resistance to the advance of the left’s litmus tests that vilify faith-based perspectives. However, the black community was not willing to cause a disruption on those issues if it could possibly result in the weakening of Obama’s presidency. It is unlikely any candidate will receive this type of treatment again.

It’s no secret that the Democratic donor class supports a social agenda that’s more compatible with Hollywood than black churchgoers. These donors and the interest groups they support have gained an outsized voice in recent years, and consequently, control the reward and punishment mechanism within the party. They promote the candidates who fall in line with their social initiatives, while silencing and excluding others. They’ve been so effective that it’s hard to name one nationally prominent black Democrat who’s willing to take a more conservative or even moderate position on abortion or identity issues. In my experience, well-funded “leadership development” programs ensure that rising urban leaders accept these liberal stances as a prerequisite for running for office.

The prejudice and lack of compassion that has found a home in the Republican Party has been the far left’s greatest foil in compelling African Americans to overlook a social agenda at odds with our values. The American political landscape could change dramatically if the Democratic Party continues to neglect black religious and moderate voters like it did during Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Center-right, anti-Trump Republicans could seize an opportunity if they fully cut ties with the Southern Strategy and embrace a Room to Grow type of reform conservatism. Either way, one of the answers to my two initial questions likely will change.

Justin E. Giboney is an Atlanta-based attorney, political strategist, and co-founder and president of the AND Campaign, a political coalition of urban Christians. Follow him on Twitter @JustinEGiboney.

Tags Barack Obama Conservatism Cory Booker Democratic Party Donald Trump Factions in the Democratic Party Hillary Clinton Political parties in the United States Republican Party Roy Moore

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