It wasn't skin colour that made black Americans vote for Barack Obama - it was the Democrats' policy

Do African-Americans vote along racial lines? Analysis of long-established voting patterns suggest that their support for the Democrats was solid long before Obama


Is race still an issue in American politics?

Barack Obama’s re-election has been celebrated by many as a victory for minorities. For the right, it was a crushing defeat, for both the Republican Party and what Bill O’Reilly calls the “white establishment.” Predictably, Obama’s popularity amongst African Americans has led to accusations of black voters choosing a candidate along racial lines.

In 2008, it was radio-host and controversialist Rush Limbaugh who charged Colin Powell with endorsing Obama because of race - this year the accusation came from John Sununu, one of the heads of Romney’s presidential campaign. But this is hardly a fringe view- a 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study found that 65% of Americans believe black voters support Obama because of race. But is there any truth to this claim? Do black Americans really vote along racial lines?


We all know the statistics. Obama captured a whopping 93% of the black vote. Whites were more divided, but still a majority- 59% - chose the white candidate, Romney, over the black candidate, Obama. But very few are suggesting that white voters are motivated by race. And why would they? A considerable majority of white Americans consistently vote Republican (between 56% and 61% did so in the 1952, 1980 and 1988 elections), and so Romney’s capture of nearly two thirds of the white vote is hardly surprising. In fact, it corresponds with the Republican vote in previous elections, when both candidates were white.

Interestingly, the same is also true of Obama: his 93% is entirely consistent with the Democratic Party’s historic record of attracting black votes, a record unmatched by any other demographic group. In fact, in 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson was a more popular candidate amongst black Americans than Obama is today, securing a staggering 94% of the black vote.

More recently, in the 2000 and 2004 elections, the Democrat candidate secured 90% and 88% of the black vote respectively. Needless to say, in not one of these elections did the Democrats field an African American candidate, but still the black community voted overwhelmingly for a Democrat as president. That African Americans only become ardent Democrats when a black candidate is fielded is frankly a myth.

Similarly, an increase in turnout amongst black voters has raised questions of voting along racial lines, but again, history is being ignored. The 61% of African Americans who cast their ballot in 2008 was hardly a huge increase from the 56% who did so in 2004. The rise in turnout could easily be explained by the strength of the Obama candidacy, or the appeal to black voters of policies like healthcare reform (as almost a quarter of African Americans are currently uninsured).

Incidentally, the turnout for unemployed Americans increased by 3% in 2008, though no-one would suggest Obama’s race had anything to do with this. But is it really a coincidence that African American turnout increased the same year that unemployed turnout did? The black community has the highest rate of unemployment and poverty in the country, so is it any wonder that when the unemployed turnout increased, so did the black turnout?


Many, however, dismiss the high turnout of black voters as racially motivated. But in reality, Obama’s 61% was entirely consistent with the steady increase in turnout amongst African Americans since the 90s. According to the US Census Bureau, turnout rose from just under 51% in 1996, to 54% in 2000 and then 56% by 2004. Turnout amongst white Americans fell in 2008, but nobody in their right mind would suggest this was due to the presence of a black candidate.

After all, turnouts fluctuate all the time- in 1996, the white turnout fell by 8%, and in 2004 it rose by around 4%. Of course, when whites turn out in greater or smaller numbers, they do so for political reasons, not prejudice. But when African Americans do it, we’re told by they’re just voting for one of their own.

Perhaps this lie stems from the bigoted belief that African Americans aren’t capable of making informed, educated decisions about politics, and instead just vote by skin colour. Or perhaps it’s out of resentment of the fact that a once disenfranchised people are now a formidable political force helping to shape American politics.

Either way, the claim that African Americans vote along racial lines is baseless. The black community is, and has been for over fifty years, the most pro-Democrat demographic group in America.

And this is perhaps the real concern for the American right. Obama or no Obama, African Americans overwhelmingly vote Democrat, and what’s more, are taking an increasingly active role in politics. This terrifies Republicans, because they know better than anybody else that the voting power of an increasingly politicised, pro-Democrat black community could spell electoral doom for the Republican Party.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat