The GOP Can Attract Young Black Voters—And Already Has
One in five black men under age 30 voted for Romney; youngest 'millennials' lean even more conservative.
August 12, 2014 8:20 AM
In the midst of rioting in St. Louis over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, the New York Times decided to stoke the embers of racial animus even further with an incendiary op-ed titled, "Can the G.O.P. Ever Attract Black Voters?"
In fact, the Republican party has already shown its ability to do just that. Exit polls from 2012 reveal an unprecedented development: not only did Mitt Romney's support from black men under the age of 30 jump 13 points from 2008, he also garnered a much larger share of votes from this group than from their elders.
Even more intriguing is the fact that this under-30 voting bloc was comprised largely of the youngest millennials, those 24 and under. This means that roughly one in five new black male voters chose to cast their very first presidential ballot for a Republican, all the while passing up the opportunity to ever vote for Obama.
All this is lost on the author, Jelani Cobb, who portrays the Republican party as racist for "fil[ing] a baseless lawsuit against the first African-American president," "all[ying] with birthers," and backing voter ID laws.
Cobb, a history professor and director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut, takes aim at Reince Priebus, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and the party's outreach to minorities:
Yet black voters recognize a point that is consistently lost on the G.O.P.: It is one thing to tell the children in one’s own community that racism is no excuse for failure, and quite another for a party invested in the electoral yields of racism to make the same claim.
In his first speech as R.N.C. chairman, Lee Atwater announced an initiative to attract black voters. But critics suspected, with good reason, that the real audience for his words were white people who felt uneasy about the party’s racist political appeals. That element of Atwaterism, the leavening of insult with invitation, has survived to the present.
While Cobb sees little hope for Republicans' chances of appealing to young black voters, the 2012 returns show more promise. Romney's support among black men in the 18 to 29 age group was more than double his backing from black men over 30, according to an analysis of 2012 media exit poll data.
The Pew Research Center previously noted that 19 percent of young black males voted for Romney and 80 percent for Barack Obama. At first glance this is puzzling, as only 11 percent of all black men chose Romney. Digging a little deeper reveals that this is because just 8 percent of black males over the age of 30 sided with Romney (and 90 percent elected Obama).
Surbhi Godsay, a researcher at Tuft University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, provided the breakdown of the data for black men over 30 to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. The sample size is substantial—798 black males under 30 and 2,430 black males over 30. (Not to mention that if exit polls tilt in any direction, they have historically skewed left.)
Surprisingly, young black male voters were "the least likely to identify as ‘liberal’ among all groups of youth, including white men, meaning that this election may have energized a conservative base of young Black men," CIRCLE concluded in its review of the exit polls. The research group also highlighted that a smaller share of young black male voters considered themselves Democrats, and more identified as Republicans and Independents than four years ago.
In the 2012 election cycle, the youngest millennials came out in force. Seven in ten young black males were under the age of 25, while four years ago they represented just under half of the entire 18 to 29 age bracket, CIRCLE calculated. Thus a significant number of black males under 25—many of whom were not old enough to vote in the 2008 election—ignored the media, Hollywood, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, professors like Cobb, and even Obama himself, and they identified with the GOP.
It is unclear whether the attitudes of some non-voting young black men have changed also. “It’s more likely that this election did not inspire a large number of young Black men who came out to support Barack Obama in 2008,” CIRCLE surmised.
While young black male voters became more conservative since 2008, shifting away from Obama by 14 points, young black females went in the opposite direction. Only 1 percent of black women under age 30 voted for Romney, versus 98 percent for Obama—a three-point gain for the president, Pew reported.
Still, the 2012 election marked a reversal for younger blacks, who as a whole leaned more to the right than any other black age group, as seen in the chart below. In 2012, 8 percent of all blacks under 30 favored Romney. Just half that amount voted for John McCain in 2008, a year in which black seniors supported him the most with 6 percent.
Young black voters were unique in this respect. They were the only race that defied the conventional wisdom of young people voting more liberally than their parents and grandparents. Overall, 51 percent of young white voters backed Romney, 8 to 10 points lower than all other white age groups. Young Latino voters, 23 percent of whom elected Romney, also voted at lower rates for Romney than older Latino generations -- a gap ranging from 5 to 12 points.
So what accounts for this growing cohort of young black conservative men? The progressive League of Young Voters, which targets minorities, non-college youth, and low-income youth, attributed it to the appeal of Romney’s entrepreneurial message. Rob "Biko" Baker, the group’s executive director, emailed this statement:
African-Americans have never been wedded to one ideology or party. While a larger number of African-American young men embraced the pro-entrepreneur spirit of the Romney campaign, his campaign's inability to project compassion for the social pressures impacting the black community were ultimately his downfall. Hopefully, future Republican candidates will understand that you can both connect to the entrepreneurial urges of the black community will [sic] also not ignoring the social pressures impacting the nation's poorest constituents.
CIRCLE’s analysis of the exit polls pointed to the economy. After all, the unemployment rate for blacks is still more than double the rate for whites.
First, young men of color [Black, Hispanic, Asian and other races] were less likely to think that the economy is getting better (50%) than women of color (59%). Second, 33% of young men of color thought that Romney would handle the deficits and economy better, a much larger portion than those among young women of color [12%].
A CIRCLE poll conducted right before the election indicated that likely black male voters under 30 planned to vote Republican or identified as swing voters by a more than 2-to-1 margin over young black females. The survey had a much smaller sample size than the exit polls.
Based on various factors like low participation in religious services, low union membership, and late decision-making for a candidate, CIRCLE estimated that all male minorities “may be more difficult to reach by traditional campaign outreach strategies.”
The report speculated, “Perhaps neither Democrats nor Republicans are reaching out to this group well.” So clearly there is room for improvement, but perhaps Cobb should revisit his wishful thinking that the GOP's failure is a foregone conclusion.