Political Isolation Stills Black Voices

For years, political scientists have anticipated a realignment of America’s political party system. Clearly the alignment formed in the 1930s, that made Democrats the majority party, no longer exists. However, prior to this recent election most experts were saying that a realignment of America’s two dominant political parties had not occurred.

Scholars and political scientists disagree. Some describe the two parties in a state of “dealignment” . . .defined as a breakdown of old voting patterns without replacement by new ones. Others suggest the occurrence of a new type of realignment, a “split-level” realignment in which one party controls congress while the other party has the presidency. Still others say that partisan politics in America has reached a stage where the concept of realignment is no longer useful.

Despite what the experts are saying, voters had their say in the November 1994 mid-term elections. They went to the polls and voted for change. Change that resulted in a Democratic majority becoming a minority. In this election, Republicans won control of congress in a series of spectacular victories by their candidates. These elections placed Republicans in the majority in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for the first time in forty years.

What happened? There was shift in the Democratic Party’s voting base. Traditionally the Democrats’ base consists mainly of seven pro-Democratic groups: blacks, Catholics, Jews, females, native white southerners, members of union households, and the white working class. In this last election, white working class voters abandoned the Democratic party in large numbers.

For decades the racial dynamics within the Democratic Party coalition has challenged party leaders shepherding candidates during elections. For example, African Americans make up about 11 percent of the electorate and working class whites consist of about 35 percent. These numbers show that the contribution blacks can make to a party is limited when compared to the potential contribution of the white working class.

However, because black-voter loyalty to the Democratic Party is strong, their contribution to the party and influence within it is far greater than the numbers would suggest. Black votes provide the margin of victory for many Democratic candidates in state and local elections.

Between 1944 and 1964, white Democratic voters represented a majority of voters in three¼ 1944, 1948 and 1964¼ of the six presidential elections. In the seven presidential elections since 1964, the Democratic Party’s candidate has never received a majority of the white votes cast. However, because of demonstrated loyalty to the Democratic Party by black voters, their party’s candidates can win with less than 50 percent of the white vote. It was this Democratic loyalty among black voters that provided margins of victory for John Kennedy in 1960, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992.

Ironically, the more often African American voters provide the margin of victory for Democratic Party candidates, the more working class whites abandon the Democratic party. A case in point: Alabama’s junior senator, Democrat Richard Shelby, won his seat in the U.S. Senate by defeating the Republican incumbent, Jeremiah Denton. Shelby won with a large number of black votes. However, after analyzing last month’s election results, he switched parties. Senator Shelby decided that he would be better off politically by realigning himself with the Republican party.

Democratic Party leaders will certainly be looking at ways of checking this trend. On the other hand, Republican leaders will certainly continue to welcome former Democratic politicians into their party. The party hopes to use them to woo and hold more white working class voters. It was these white working class voters that provided winning votes for many of the Republican candidates in November’s election.

A related issue, majority-minority redistricting, also affected the 1994 Congressional elections. Political scientists and party strategists will be pondering and assessing this aspect of these elections for years. From this column’s perspective, Republicans are the unintended benefactors of congressional redistricting that created majority-minority districts.

Creating majority-minority districts required the torturous redrawing of congressional districts in states with significant minority populations. A consequence of creating these districts was to dilute or eliminate black voters from the remaining districts. These voters often provided the margin of victory in congressional races for white Democratic candidates.

Presently, there are few African American Republican office holders. This is an undesirable outcome of concentrating black political power into the Democratic Party rather than dispersing voter influence between the parties. Therefore with Republicans in control of both houses of congress, it is reasonable to expect a diminished emphasis upon programs and policies that concern the African American Diaspora.

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Originally Published: 7 December 1994, Montgomery Advertiser

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