Source: Shama Tobin
One of the untold stories of the 2016 election (buried or ignored because the media was busy with the fake Russian conspiracy) is how Hillary Clinton lost black votes — and the presidency. Let us take a look at the election results in two states, Florida and Michigan.
In 2016, Clinton won 84% to Trump 8% of Florida black votes. It’s a significant decrease from the 95% received by Obama in 2012. Had Clinton won the black votes by 90%, she would have carried the state along with its 29 electoral votes. Similarly, while Clinton won 92% of black votes in Michigan, it’s down by 3 percentage points from the 95% enjoyed by Obama in 2012. Trump carried the state by a slender margin of about 11 thousand votes, despite receiving only 6% of black votes. Clinton would have won Michigan had she managed to win 94% of the black votes. Winning Florida and Michigan would have given Clinton 272 electoral votes, enough to hand her the White House.
Over the last 10 presidential elections, Democratic candidates enjoyed an average 89% of black votes compared to 9% for Republican candidates. It’s almost a ratio of 10:1. The peak was when Obama was on the ballot in 2008, reaching at 95%. In 2016, Clinton carried 88% of black votes to Trump 8% — an 11:1 ratio.
Very few demographic voting blocs in the world show such a deep and long loyalty to a particular political party the way Black Americans to Democratic Party. It is probably one of the finest examples of identity politics. While it may be noble and essential in other aspects of life, a deep loyalty in politics could be counterproductive. It may lead to an underappreciation of their votes by the receiving party. In other words, their votes may be taken for granted, which in turn lowers its political value.
In a democracy, a vote is a currency that can translate into a bargaining power. By devaluing your currency, you are diminishing your bargaining power in the political process. It is akin to going into a negotiation table with all your cards fully exposed.
The Black Lives Matter movement can be appealing to some nonpolitical groups among the general population who are genuinely concerned about the socioeconomic welfare of other people. But in a society, the welfare of individuals and communities are not independent of public policies, which in turn, are often the product of election outcomes. That means votes do matter. Hence, those who have genuine concern for the welfare of Black Americans should also realize that how and who they vote also matter. Put it differently, black votes should and do matter.
A political election is a transaction of trust. The voters trust the legislative or executive candidates and manifest it in their votes for them. In return, the elected ones use the trust as a political capital to work on public policies to improve the lives of the people they represent or lead. However, an election is also a control check, an opportunity for voters to verify whether the elected officials misuse or disregard their trust or not. When voters allow their votes to be taken for granted, they essentially relinquish an important purpose of election as a control check. That is one of the downsides of identity politics.
Identity politics do not necessarily bring improvement to the socioeconomic welfare of the particular group of people that form the exclusive socio-demographic-political alliances. When Obama was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, there was a hope among both white and black Americans that he would improve not only the race relations in America, but also the lives of Black Americans. Unfortunately, the facts show otherwise. In 2008, 9.88 million Black Americans lived in poverty. Eight years later, when Obama left office in January 2017, the number had increased to 9.96 million. Meanwhile, during the first three years of the Trump administration, the number of Black Americans living in poverty dropped from 10.0 million to 8.84 million.
Reagan won 14% to Carter 83% of Black votes in 1980. That’s the highest for any Republican candidate in the last 10 presidential elections. Some may say that Bill Clinton was the first black president. But during his campaigns in 1992 and 1996, the percentages of black votes he won (83% and 84%, respectively) were the lowest among Democratic presidential candidates in the last four decades. In this election, after the Obama effect is subsiding, the split in black votes may go back to the pre-Obama era, roughly 87% to 11% to Democratic candidate’s advantage.
Black voters made up about 13% of the country’s 233.67 million eligible voter population in 2018. The percentage will likely remain the same in this election. If 6% of black voters switch their votes from a Democratic candidate to a Republican candidate in this election, with a voter turnout of about 55%, that could result in a switch of 1 million votes. With an essentially zero-sum election because of the two-party system, that is a gain of 2 million votes, or about 1.4% of total votes, for Republicans. It’s more than enough to guarantee Trump’s re-election.
The old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Unyielding, collective, and persistent loyalty to vote for the same party without rationally reexamining the party’s true commitment to its original intent is unwise. It devalues the votes and brings little progress on the voters’ socioeconomic lives. This is why more Black Americans should give a second look at the Republican Party. If it turns out the Party fails to deliver its promises, there is always the next election to correct the mistake. But at least that makes their votes much more appreciated.