Writing for The Atlantic, Matthew Delmont considers “What African Americans lost by aligning with the Democratic Party.” It’s a brief piece, but makes important points about the limits of the Democratic Party’s collective vision of race relations in the USA, and the ways in which those limits have exacerbated regional and class divisions among African Americans.
I would just like to add one point. It would be illogical for African Americans to vote otherwise than as a bloc supporting one party with 90% or more of their votes. Illogical, because in each of the fifty states and in most other jurisdictions around the USA, African Americans are a numerical minority. Say African Americans constitute 10% of the vote in a given state, and that there is no ethnic bloc voting in that state. If African Americans give one candidate 5.1% of the vote and the other 4.9%, that .2% difference will matter only in the most closely divided election. It will hardly be worth any candidate’s while to address issues of special concern to the African American community in pursuit of so small a reward, especially since white voters tend to be quick to see any effort to appeal to African Americans as a sign that politicians are neglecting their interests. Even an African American vote that divides 6% to 4% will give politicians little incentive to risk alienating the touchier segments of the white vote by focusing on specifically African American issues, since many or most undecided African American voters would be concerned chiefly with issues that are as important to whites as they are to African Americans.
By voting solidly for the Democrats, African Americans do lose the interest of the Republicans, and do wind up tied to some unattractive politicians. But they also constitute the single most powerful voting bloc within the party. In the Deep South, where whites vote almost as solidly Republican as African Americans vote Democratic, the institutional Democratic Party is a space where African Americans can influence events on a national and international scale. This in turn gives African Americans in those states an incentive to value loyalty to the institutional Democratic Party. We saw the results of this several weeks ago, when Bernie Sanders, who joined the Democratic Party only last year after decades in politics as an independent, lost every southern primary by enormous margins to Hillary Clinton, who, having been Secretary of State under the current Democratic president and wife to the Democratic president before him, is as much a symbol of the institutional Democratic Party as is any red, white, and blue cartoon donkey.
Ethnic bloc voting is not peculiar to African Americans and to whites in the Deep South, of course. It is the norm wherever the largest ethnic group does not form so large a supermajority of the voting population that it can be confident it will dominate whatever government emerges from an election. In the northern states of the USA, a significant percentage of whites vote for the Democrats, knowing that while African Americans might have more influence and more representation in Democratic state governments than in Republican ones, most of the leadership will still be white, and whether the leaders are white or not, they can hardly hope to stay in office long if they alienate a significant percentage of the otherwise-available white vote. In southern states, where African Americans are a much larger percentage of the population, if a quarter or less of whites voted Democratic, that might be enough to install a Democratic state government. Most of that government’s support would come from African American voters, and so its first order of business if it were to survive would be to address itself primarily to the concerns of African Americans.
I remember public discussion in the USA leading up to and away from the Iraqi elections of January 2005. Before the elections many experts warned that elections in Iraq at that time would, in effect, be an ethnic census, in that Shia Arabs would vote for the Shia coalition, Sunnis would vote for the Sunni coalition, and Kurds would vote for the Kurdish coalition. After the election, observers pointed out that precisely this had happened. Much of that commentary hinged on the phrase “at this time.” An election held “at this time” would be little more than an ethnic census. I wondered what time might come when it would not be so. The hated Steve Sailer likes to quote an August 2005 interview in which Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew said that “In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion.” I first saw him quote that in August 2005, when that Iraqi election was still fresh in my mind, which is one of the reasons why that line made an impression on me (and why I am still in the habit of reading Mr Sailer’s blog.)
If African Americans ever do break away from the Democrats, it’s hard to see where they will go. Wherever they do go, it will probably be in their best interests to go there as a bloc, since demographic trends don’t suggest that African Americans will be a supermajority of the USA’s population any time soon. Indeed, all current trends suggest that the African American share of the population will continue to decline throughout the remainder of this century.