Opinion

JESSE JACKSON: Republican Party Rejects Black Voters

Are black voters so loyal to Democrats that their issues are ignored? Donald Trump suggests as much, arguing that blacks had “nothing to lose” by voting for him. Now a column by Farai Chideya at FiveThirtyEight cites academics who make a similar argument.

In recent elections, about 90 percent of the black vote has gone to Democrats. Chideya cites Professor Paul Frymer of Princeton, who argues that politicians focus their appeals on swing voters, particularly “moderate, disaffected whites in the middle — whether you call them soccer moms or NASCAR dads.”

Chideya also cites two recent studies on how well black interests are represented in government. A 2015 report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies concluded that “black voices are less equal than others when it comes to policy.” And a 2015 law review article by Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago Law School “found that black support for Congressional legislation actually decreased its chances of passage.”

Are blacks voting against their own interests? Are they a “captured group” who would be better off if they weren’t so pro-Democrat?

African-American voters are neither fools nor inherently Democratic partisans. When Lincoln Republicans were leading the fight for the freedom amendments after the Civil War — the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments — African-Americans voted overwhelmingly with Republicans. Blacks began voting Democratic when FDR launched the New Deal and stood with poor and working people in the Great Depression. When Democratic Dixiecrats fought to sustain legal segregation, many African-Americans in the South voted Republican. Dr. Martin Luther King’s father was a Republican.

But then, after Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Voting Rights Act and the Great Society, Republicans — beginning with Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy and continuing with Ronald Reagan and beyond — used racial dog-whistle politics to consolidate their party in the white South. The party of Lincoln became the party of Jefferson Davis.

Now African-Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats not because we reject the Republican Party but because the Republican Party rejects us. If we vote our interests, we have little choice but to vote against a party that has systematically tried to undermine and constrict the right to vote, that votes against affordable housing, against expanding Social Security and against poverty programs.

Republicans have led the fight against a living wage. They oppose efforts to curb gun violence in our cities by blocking background checks and repealing the ban on assault weapons. They vocally undermine enforcement of equal employment laws and anti-discrimination measures. Their Supreme Court nominees gutted the Voting Rights Act, and their legislators have blocked efforts to restore it. They have consistently voted against any plan to rebuild our cities, reinvest in infrastructure and put people to work. They oppose efforts to ease the student loan debt that burdens too many African-Americans.

Blacks vote against Republicans in overwhelming numbers because Republicans are overwhelmingly campaigning against our core interests. Republicans can appeal to black voters but only if they reach out and change their policy positions. As former New Orleans Mayor Mark Morial told Chideya, “A chicken can’t root for Colonel Sanders.”

Arguably, the real “captured group” of voters are the poor and working-class white voters who vote Republican. That vote is surely against their economic interests. Republicans have won their votes by appeals to race, to religion and to conservative social issues, but they never deliver. Liberal social movements for equality — the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and the gay rights movement — continue to make progress. And working and poor white people continue to lose ground economically. Now polls suggest that they favor Donald Trump for president, someone who opposes lifting the minimum wage, opposes empowering workers to organize, opposes expanding Social Security, wants to repeal health care reform and vows to cut taxes on the rich and corporations.

African-Americans aren’t a captured bloc of voters. We are people who are voting our interests — and looking for allies. Republicans have to decide if they want to continue to push off against us or begin to reach out to us.

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Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.

Founder and President, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures. Over the past forty years, he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice. On August 9, 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Reverend Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

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