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updated 11/4/2004 4:38:53 PM ET 2004-11-04T21:38:53
COMMENTARY

A strong turnout by African Americans on Election Day wasn’t enough to defeat President Bush. Despite cases of voter intimidation, he beat John Kerry fair and square. And Bush did it with greater support from Black voters than he won four years ago.

Bush made a modest inroad into the Black community, but that’s more than enough to let Republicans crow. Surveys of voters after they left the polls indicated that 11 percent of African Americans voted for him, up at least two points from 2000. In some places, like Ohio, Bush took 16 percent of the Black vote, an increase of seven points.

Kerry won a solid 88 percent of the national Black vote, but that was two points lower than Al Gore's African American support in the last presidential election. Bush’s 51 percent of the total vote gave him a popular vote majority, quite a contrast to his popular vote defeat (that was followed by an Electoral College win) last time.

No Thievery
And, unlike four years ago, you can’t say the Republicans stole the election. Although, the Election Protection Coalition says it took 70,000 calls about Election Day complaints, there is not the same sense of fiasco and thievery that America experienced in Florida last time.

So if he didn’t steal it, how did a president who presides over double digit Black unemployment rates increase his Black support even marginally? How does a man who fights affirmative action get increasing affirmation from African Americans?

One thing the pundits ponder is the impact so-called “moral issues” and religion-related policies had on the electorate in general and Black folks in particular. Bush used his faith- based policy that funnels money into churches for social programs to gain support from some Black preachers.

Gay Marriage Miscue?
Black people also can be socially conservative folks and Bush’s opposition to gay marriage struck a positive chord with African Americans. A majority of them agree with him on that point, even if they don’t support his call for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Even the civil union alternative has little support in Black communities.

It’s a subject that Washington radio talk show host Joe Madison says resonates with callers to his program on WOL/XM “The Power.” “They just simply believe it’s a man and a woman that should be married,” he said. “They aren’t strong on that liberal viewpoint (regarding gay marriage). They don’t like it.”

Bush didn’t make gay marriage a central issue of his campaign and he didn’t need to. Conservatives managed to get measures banning same sex marriage on the ballots in 11 states.  Voters approved all those measures.

The exit polls don’t say how Black people in those states voted on those questions, but there is no doubt that the ballot issues helped fan the flame of same sex-marriage and that could only help Bush’s cause.

Real Morality
Somehow, this talk of “moral issues” doesn’t include the toleration of poverty at home and war mongering abroad. We need a new definition.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., whose district includes the south side of Chicago and its southern suburbs, says the Republican Party’s “cultural war” was a key factor in Bush’s victory. “It’s clear that the Republican strategy of cultural fear over a Democratic strategy of economic hope won,” he said. “It’s also clear that ‘anti-someone’ is not enough for Democrats to win.”

The GOP skillfully used the cultural war to divert attention from a sour economic situation that should have been Bush’s undoing, Jackson argues. “Republicans have wrapped this cultural class warfare in the American flag and packaged it as religious morality,” he continued. And the Democrats failed to effectively counter that Republican tactic, he added.

But those tactics could have been countered with a strong showing by Kerry supporters. Black people were energized and did go to the polls in big numbers. Exit polling data indicate that 11 percent of the voters were Black, an increase from four years ago. Unfortunately, the highly publicized efforts to get the young vote out produced less than expected.

The Hip-Hop Vote
“Too much was made of the registration boom,” said Ronald V. Walters, a University of Maryland political scientist. “Young people and entertainers created an aura that gave us the impression that more was happening than was actually happening.” Their percentage of the electorate (17 percent) was about the same as four years ago, he explained, although more of them did support the Democratic presidential candidate.

The danger is, however, that after all the Hip-Hop Summits, after all the “Vote or Die” sloganeering, after all the celebrities and concerts used to push young people to the polls, the youth might get a bad case of the Bush Blues. If those new voters who mobilized to beat Bush now feel their efforts were in vain and drop out of the system, that would be a loss for all of us.  

The hip-hop community can be the potent force many thought it would be this year, but it will need some help from political experts, Walters suggested. “They really need to do their thing with somebody who knows about politics,” he said. “They were good about events, but I’m not sure they know how to capitalize on those events in a political way.”

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