Pollwatchers nation-wide did a double-take Tuesday after reports of an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey pegged African American support for that Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney at 0 percent, versus 94 percent for Pres. Barack Obama. The telephone survey queried 1000 registered voters and included about 110 black respondents. Romney also trailed Obama with among women, Hispanics and voters under 35. The full results can be found at - msnbcmedia.
The goose-egg was the most eye-catching result; otherwise the survey's conclusion that the Obama and Romney are locked in a statistical dead heat was consistent with other polls, as the chart below shows. The margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 3.1 percent, so Romney's support may not be far off from the 5 percent of the black vote that John McCain pulled in 2008.
Any poll is just a momentary snapshot of voter sentiment with limited predictive value, and polls of registered voters carry less weight than polls of likely voters.
April 8, 2012 - Los Angeles, CA, USA - A parishioner registers to vote after attending Easter services at the First African Methodist Espiscopal Church near downtown Los Angeles. In an effort to counteract the draconian voter restriction measures passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures, the nearly 500,000 predominantly black churches across the US were tasked with helping to register up to one million new voters.(Credit Image: © Brian Cahn/ZUMAPRESS.com)
And Romney does have African American supporters, such as Town Hall columnist Crystal Wright, aka Conservative Black Chick. Wright thought that Romney's "heartfelt" speech before the NAACP earlier this summer, which emphasized his pro-market policies on education, health care and economic revitalization, "will go a long way toward earning respect from black liberals."
"Romney made a smart move in recognizing the ongoing economic and equality disparities plaguing blacks. He then told the crowd why they should vote for him. Without directly linking Obama’s name to the dire straights blacks find themselves in under his failed policies, Romney noted black unemployment rose in June from 13.6% to 14.4% and is almost twice the national average. While blacks represent 17% of public school students, Romney said 42% of blacks are trapped in failing schools."
Still, there's no denying that former Gov. Romney is not catching on with black voters, and that can be a problem in a close election, as this one is expected to be. In fact, a July 2012 study by the National Urban League and Joint Center for Political Studies found that black voter turnout could decide the presidential election.
Zerlina Maxwell of the New York Daily News notes that while black voters have given their overwhelming suppport to Democrats for decades, past GOP candidates before 2008 have managed to snag at least 10 percent of the black vote. According to Maxwell, the party of Lincoln has alienated black voters with policies and rhetoric that seem tinged with racial animus, and candidate Romney hasn't bucked the trend:
"When Newt Gingrich calls the first black President “the food stamp President,” black people hear that. When Donald Trump proclaims that Obama isn’t an American citizen or that he only got into Harvard Law School because his skin is brown, black people hear that. When Romney runs blatantly false attacks on welfare reminiscent of the “welfare queen” rhetoric of the 1990s, black people hear that. When Romney tells a fundraiser of majority white supporters in Montana that an NAACP audience booed him because they want “more stuff from the government,” black people can hear that."
If Maxwell were writing her column today (August 24), she'd probably add Romney's quip that, "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate," uttered at a Michigan campaign stop today. Blogger AngryBlack Lady is having none of it.
"Mitt Romney has pandered to and courted Birthers. (Donald Trump, anyone?) Mitt Romney is currently running dog whistle ads that accuse President Obama of gutting the welfare work requirement, despite the ads having been condemned as false by anyone with two brain cells to rub together."
AngryBlackLady recommends Baratunde Thurston's 2011 video commentary on the birther controversy for those who don't understand "how deeply painful [the birther controversy] is for many black Americans."
Political scientist Michael Fauntroy says that the Republican party "has be[en] trafficking, overtly or covertly, in racial symbolism for more than half a century. Fauntroy is careful to note that he is not calling the party or its partisans racist. What he does see, however, is a pattern that makes the GOP a comfortable place for those who harbor racist beliefs:
"In the 1960s we saw states’ rights, “law and order”, the “silent majority”, and the southern strategy. In the 1970s it was reverse racism, and convincing rural Whites that affirmative action – and not corporate decisions to move jobs to cheaper labor markets abroad – was responsible for their jobs going away and their wages stagnating. In the 1980s it was the Republican apparatus trying to undermine Black civil rights leadership, defund federal civil rights enforcement, veto anti-Apartheid legislation, and produce the racist Willie Horton campaign ad in support of Vice President George H. W. Bush’s successful presidential campaign. That decade closed with the 1989 election of Republican David Duke a White supremacist Ku Klux Klan member to a seat in the Louisiana legislature. The 1990s continued the trend with nuanced voter suppression tactics targeting Black voters. The new millennium saw the Grand Old Party double down on racially targeted crime control policies and continue its push to demonize Mexican immigrants for political purposes."
Fauntroy cautions Republican party leaders that as the nation's demographics change, it risks marginalizing itself in a nation that is destined to become more diverse. Comedian Jon Stewart satirically argued that Republican support for voting restrictions is its response to those demographic changes.
While Stewart's "Cockblock the Vote" spiel is funny, it's striking that one of the leading critics of voter ID laws is a former Republican activist, Faye Anderson, who accused the Grand Old Party of the "Illusion of Inclusion" in 2000. Anderson has been working to preserve voting rights ever since, and she currently heads up the Cost of Freedom Project, which educates voters on photo identification requirements nationwide.
The bottom line for Mitt Romney and the Republican Party is that if they want to improve their support among black voters, they will have to do a better job of convincing them that they care about protecting their citizenship rights.
Blogher is non-partisan, but many of their bloggers are not.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Atlantic Monthly Fear of a Black President
Valerie Strauss, Washington Post Mitt vs. George Romney on Black-White Achievement Gap, School Segregation