The Root

I've got a piece on The Root this morning.

Empty Threats: A History
Still taking the black vote for granted after all these years.
Updated: 5:33 PM ET May 9, 2008

May 12, 2008--If Sen. Clinton somehow manages to wrest the nomination from Sen. Barack Obama, black voters, we are being told, are likely to sit at home or vote Republican.

But haven't we heard these types of threats before? Black Democrats have been warning for decades that their party will be in trouble if they keep taking the black vote for granted in the general election. Still others have warned that Republicans could steal a large number of black votes as a result. Based on recent history, Black Democrats will huff and puff, then... stand in line to vote for the Democrat presidential candidate, hustle around the country and exhort blacks to vote.

Let's take a trip down memory lane:


At a black political strategy meeting held in Charlotte, N.C., blacks lamented that Democrats take the black vote for granted while Republicans largely ignore it.

--The New York Times, May 8, 1976

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., criticized Democrats for taking the black vote for granted and Republicans for ignoring poor and black Americans.

--The New York Times, August 15, 1976

Final 1976 tally

Jimmy Carter, Democrat, 85 percent of the black vote (election winner)

Gerald Ford, Republican, 15 percent of the black vote.


[Rep. John] Conyers D-Mich. said it is obvious that [Sen. Edward ]Kennedy enjoys widespread support among rank-and-file black Democrats. "The defections in the Carter camp grow daily," he said, adding that it would be a mistake to take the black vote for granted.

Source: The Associated Press, Oct 31, 1979

Jesse Jackson said President Carter should not take the black vote for granted in the 1980 election and that the possibility of black support for GOP candidate Ronald Reagan should not be dismissed out of hand. "His bark is greater than his bite, judging from what he did in California," Jackson said of Reagan. "I do not want to reduce our options." He added that Reagan's choice of George Bush as his running mate shows some flexibility. "The idea that blacks won't vote for a Republican is inaccurate," Jackson said, citing black support of Sen. Charles Percy, R-Ill., and former Sen. Edward Brooke, R-Mass.

Source: The Associated Press, July 20, 1980

Maudine R. Cooper, the Urban League's vice president for Washington operations, echoed Jackson's warning: "We cannot be wed to any party or candidate."

Source: The Washington Post, August 9, 1980

Final 1980 tally:

Democrat Jimmy Carter—86 percent of the black vote

Republican Ronald Reagan—12 percent (election winner)


"A further objective of Mr. Jackson's campaign was to serve notice that white Democrats should not take black votes for granted and that Republicans could not afford to write them off entirely."

Source: The New York Times, November 26, 1984

Final 1984 tally:

Democrat Walter Mondale—89 percent of the black vote

Republican Ronald Reagan—9 percent of the black vote(election winner)


"[Evangelist and presidential candidate Pat] Robertson's campaign staff argued that he would let Democrats know they cannot take the black vote for granted. George Vinnett, his black national press secretary, insisted the white evangelist would get interracial support."

Source: United Press International, October 1, 1987

''The time has passed when Democrats can take the black vote for granted. The New Alliance Party gives voters an alternative to the two major parties,'' said Lenora B. Fulani, presidential candidate of the New Alliance Party

Source: Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 1988

Marva Gibbs, a program director for a health care agency in Summerville, S.C., said she would vote for Mr. Bush because "Democrats don't stand more for blacks than Republicans, so why be loyal to them?" "Democrats take black votes for granted and think they can do anything they want and because we're black we'll vote Democratic," she added.

The New York Times , October 27, 1988

Final 1988 tally:

Democrat Michael Dukakis—88 percent of the black vote

Republican George H.W. Bush—10 percent of the black vote (election winner)


Jesse Jackson tells reporters: "Don't take the black vote for granted." Jackson hinted that he might bolt the party and take millions of black voters with him unless he gets more respect from his fellow Democrats and unless Congress passes the 1991 Civil Rights Act.

Source: SeattlePost-Intelligencer, May 24, 1991

"...although the Sister Souljah controversy may not have hurt him to any great degree among Black voters, Gov. Clinton would be wise to not assume that he can take the Black vote for granted, no matter what he does."

Source: Calvin W. Rolark, WashingtonInformer, June 24, 1992

"There's no question Mr. Clinton's strategy is to aim his message at the moderate, white Southerners and take the black vote for granted," [pollster Whit] Ayres said. "Not surprisingly, every indication I get is that black voters are quite ambivalent about Mr. Clinton's candidacy."

Source: OrlandoSentinel, October 26, 1992

Final 1992 tally:

Lawrence Lucier / Getty Images

Democrat Bill Clinton—82 percent of the black vote

Republican George H.W. Bush—11 percent of the black vote


..Once again, civil rights leaders say they have no real choice but to help the Democrats retain control of Congress."This is not the first time we've had to save the captain from sinking the ship, especially when we are on the ship - and in the hull of it at that," said Jesse Jackson, who is campaigning for the Democratic National Committee to get out the black, urban and labor vote.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 30, 1994.

Bernard Shaw, host: "[D]o the Democrats realize there's a firebell in the night, that blacks are beginning to look at the Republican Party very seriously and that there are viable candidates running?"

Source: CNN, Inside Politics, November 1, 1994

Final 1996 tally:

Democrat Bill Clinton—84 percent of the black vote

Republican Bob Dole—12 percent of the black vote


The apparent ability of some Republican candidates to attract a significant minority of black voters can now work to the political advantage of African Americans. Facing new competition from the GOP, Democrats will no longer be able to take the black vote for granted. Increasingly, they will be forced to pay attention to black voter concerns in order to solidify their electoral base.

Source: Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, October 31, 1999

[NAACP president] Kweisi Mfume said that for too long, black America has been caught between the policies of Republicans who eschew minority issues and of Democrats who take the black vote for granted."That type of folly must end," Mfume said.

Source: The Associated Press, July 8, 2000

Final 2000 tally:

Democrat Al Gore: 90 percent of the black vote

Republican George W. Bush: 9 percent of the black vote

Pool / Getty Images


"There are some clear warning signs that the Democrats should heed, and not assume rampant support from African-Americans in November based simply on traditional voting patterns," said Pamela Gentry, BET Nightly News Washington bureau chief and senior producer.

Source: HoustonChronicle, July 23, 2004

U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit said Kerry is smart to not take black votes for granted. "Frequently we come to the black community too little and too late," said Conyers, who is black. "The biggest vote, by far, is in the African-American community where only half the people are voting, but those who vote vote 90 percent Democratic."

Source: Associated Press, July 15, 2004

Final 2004 tally:

Democrat John Kerry—88 percent of the black vote

Republican George W. Bush—11 percent of the black vote (election winner)


A big sticking point for many panelists at the NAACP's Freedom Weekend Freedom Institute's forum was that the Democratic Party "takes the black vote for granted," said Bankole Thompson, Michigan Chronicle senior editor.

Source" Detroit Free Press April 27, 2008

"But before Democratic superdelegates get too itchy to snuff the Obama campaign, they should consider the new animal that move might spawn: the Obama Republican. I know: the notion of black folks and young folks and progressive white folks abandoning the Democrats en masse if the Wife of Bill is the nominee ain't exactly new; Right here on The Root, the writer William Jelani Cobb espoused a McCain protest vote in November, and has since accepted a ticket to Denver as a Democratic delegate in August. But that makes the threat no less real. Any Democratic honcho needing a lesson in the power of disaffected black voters need only Google "2002 and Clarence Mitchell IV."

Source: The RootApril 25, 2008.

"Let's be clear. When black folks switch parties, we do it decisively. After nearly a century of unwavering commitment to the party of Lincoln, it was Republican Barry Goldwater's presidential bid in 1964, designed to appeal to entrenched American racism, which led to an increase in black Democratic Party identifiers from 59 percent to 86 percent in a single election. Despite Obama's call for unity in his North Carolina victory speech last night, black Americans will not stand behind a candidate who deploys a Goldwater strategy within our own party. Our opposition to the war will not allow us to vote for McCain, but we can choose to exit the coalition, withhold our votes, to protest a Clinton candidacy. This is not a threat. It is an observation based on historical evidence."

Source: The Root, May 7, 2008

Final 2008 tally?

Win McNamee / Getty Images
YURI GRIPAS / AFP/Getty Images

Casey Lartigue, Jr. is an education consultant based in Virginia.

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