2004 might turn out to be the year when blacks began their journey in the liberal imagination from perpetual victims of bigotry to "bigots" themselves. The left has always forgiven the black community a lot -- its religiosity, with which Jerry Falwell could feel comfortable; its retrograde views on abortion and school prayer; its hostility to gay rights. But now blacks just might have gone too far: They've started to vote Republican.
A pre-election survey by the well-respected Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies had President Bush's support among black voters going from 9 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2004. In that survey, Bush's support among black self-described evangelicals hit a stunning 36 percent. "We haven't seen a number like 36 percent anywhere in the black community in a generation," says conservative activist Richard Nadler, who has made it his business to win blacks to the GOP through targeted advertising and outreach.
The numbers fell off on Election Day. According to the exit polls, Bush's support among blacks nationally inched up only slightly from 9 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2004. But the kind of dramatic movement in the pre-election Joint Center survey showed up in the battleground states where the GOP invested the most resources to woo black voters. Bush went from 7 percent of the black vote in Florida in 2000 to 13 percent in 2004. In all-important Ohio, Bush's support among blacks rose from 10 percent to 16 percent.
"I have not found a single black precinct where Bush's vote went down from 2000," Nadler says. "It just went up everywhere." One Republican strategist predicts that the GOP share of the black vote will hit 30 percent within the next few election cycles. If it does, many religious black voters will be finding their appropriate home in a political environment defined by a cultural split over social issues.
Someone once said of well-off Jewish voters who nonetheless vote heavily Democratic that "Jews earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans." Blacks have long worshipped like conservative Protestants, but voted like any other reliably Democratic group. Some now are beginning to vote like conservative Protestants.