Why aren't black voters rallying to Bush?

Posted: Jun 29, 2004 12:00 AM

President Bush seems to have his finger on the pulse for what needs to be done to empower the impoverished communities in our country. During his short tenure, he has promoted key reforms such as school choice, medical savings accounts and personal retirement accounts to replace the Social Security tax. He has engaged the black clergy with his faith-based initiative.

In spite of receiving only 8 percent of the black vote in 2000, Bush has continuously sought quality black leaders and positioned them in key parts of his administration, including leadership at the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. At a time when one of the nation's primary concerns is foreign affairs and terrorism, we have a black secretary of state and a black national security adviser. Never have blacks held such top jobs in an administration.

Why then does The Washington Post/ABC poll done in May show only 6 percent support among blacks for Bush? This is 2 percent less than he got in 2000. Is his message not resonating with the black community? Are there problems in the Republican Party's outreach strategy to blacks? Or is it that blacks just don't care?

There is increasing evidence that blacks are becoming disillusioned with traditional big-government politics of the Democratic Party. The widely reported 2002 survey by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies showed erosion in black identification as Democrats and increased identification of young blacks as independents. The black clergy is united and outspoken in support of the current initiative, supported by the president, to amend the Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

What is going on?

On the surface, one would expect that Republicans would be picking up ground among black voters. But they don't seem to have gained an inch.

One area worth examining is the glaring difference in voting behavior among whites and blacks who attend church regularly. Nationwide, church attendance correlates perfectly with voting behavior. According to analysis done at the University of Akron, of those who say they attend church more than once per week, 65 percent voted for George W. Bush in 2000. For those who say they never attend church, the results were exactly inverse, 65 percent voted for Al Gore.

Blacks stand out as an exception. There is little difference in voting behavior between black churchgoers and non-goers. Both vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

These differences among whites and blacks cannot be explained by religiosity. When asked in a survey done in 2001 by the Pew Research Center about the personal importance of religion, 85 percent of blacks and 63 percent of whites responded "very important." On the social agenda, black and white churchgoers have very similar views. The president's faith based initiative polls more strongly among blacks in general than it does among his white evangelical base.

I think a key difference is that white churchgoers incorporate a view of limited government as part of their worldview and blacks, so far, do not. In the Pew survey, 34 percent of blacks and 26 percent of whites expressed confidence in the ability of government agencies to provide social services.

However, blacks are beginning to question the big-government approach that they've gotten from their Democratic leadership for the last 50 years. Republicans need to tap into this and help educate and build trust. The case for ownership and limited government as the antidote for poverty is compelling, as is the clear damage that the welfare state has caused in the inner cities.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie has been touring the country with boxing promoter Don King addressing black businessmen in the inner cities. But is this really the best way to reach black voters? Less than 3 percent of blacks own businesses and most of these are mom-and-pop operations with revenues of less than $150,000 per year.

The way to reach blacks is through the black church. Starbucks knows this. Its recent entry into the inner cities has been orchestrated through churches.

Nationwide, there are 65,000 black churches, with more than 20 million members and $50 billion in revenues. Republicans need to build on this base, already with Bush on social issues, and help blacks make the logical connection between their faith and the importance of individual freedom and personal responsibility.

Private Social Security accounts, health savings accounts and school choice will make only marginal differences in the lives of the wealthy. But for the poor, and those who want to move ahead in this society, they will make all the difference in the world. When black voters understand this, they will know what to do.


Star Parker is president of CURE, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education ( www.urbancure.org ), and author of "Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can Do About It."