Thursday, May 15, 2008

African American Votes are Up for Grabs

Fredrick Harris

Fredrick C. Harris's research interests include American Politics with a focus on political participation, social movements, religion and politics, political development, and African-American politics.

Publications include Something Within: Religion in African-American Political Activism (Oxford University Press, 1999), which was awarded the V.O. Key Award for the Best Book on Southern Politics by the Southern Political Science Association, the Distinguished Book Award by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Best Book Award by the National Conference of Black Political Scientists;

Countervailing Forces in African-American Civic Activism, 1973-1994 with Valeria Sinclair-Chapman and Brian McKenzie (Cambridge University Press, 2006), which received the 2006 W.E.B. DuBois Book Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists; and Black Churches and Local Politics: Clergy Influence, Organizational Partnerships, and Civic Empowerment with R. Drew Smith (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005). Fredrick Harris
Survey Determines African American Votes are Up for Grabs; Political Scientist Also Finds Strong Support for Reforming the Nomination Process

Slight majority of blacks feel they should stand together in politics, but a significant majority feel they should not always vote for a black candidate

New York, January 29, 2008-An opinion survey on "Racial Attitudes and the Presidential Nomination," conducted by Fredrick Harris, Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and director of the Center on African American Politics and Society, has determined that African-American votes are up for grabs for both leading candidates of the Democratic Party and the skin color of the candidate will not automatically translate in African-American votes.

One of the largest racial differences in attitudes was in response to whether the tradition of New Hampshire holding the first primary should continue. Nearly 60 percent of blacks, compared to 44 percent of whites think the tradition should be eliminated.

"The study reveals the enormous value black voters place on diversity in evaluating the effectiveness of the presidential nomination process," said Fredrick Harris. "Like most voters, blacks value the process producing a candidate that can win the general election, but they place far greater emphasis on the process giving minorities a voice, and producing an ideologically and regionally diverse ticket. Clearly, black voters are both pragmatic and idealistic, balancing candidates' electability with candidates' commitment to racial, regional and ideological diversity."

Electability is a value deemed as important by both blacks and whites, with blacks placing a greater emphasis on the system producing a candidate who can win the general election. About three quarters of blacks (76%) compared to 65 percent of whites think that producing a winning candidate is very important.

However, the starkest difference in responses is the importance placed on giving minorities a voice in the nomination process-blacks and other minorities want their issues and interests addressed during the nomination process.
This also means for blacks having influence in the outcome of the Democratic Party's nominee, since about 90 percent of blacks identify with the Democratic Party. About three quarters of blacks (76%) view this value of having a voice and influence in the nomination process as compared to 56 percent of whites, a difference of 20 percentage points.

In the survey, 61 percent of blacks identified as Democrats, only 6 percent as "Republicans" and 24 percent said they were independents.
Diversity is a value that blacks emphasized in different ways throughout the survey. Regarding regional diversity on the ticket, 61 percent of blacks compared to 42 percent of whites believe that the presidential and vice-presidential nominees representing different regions of the country is very important. Also, blacks distinguished themselves from whites by 63 percent recognizing a need for ideological diversity compared to 40 percent of whites.
For blacks, a strong majority favor having a presidential and vice-presidential ticket in which the nominees do not hold the same ideological views, but rather a mixture of liberal and conservative views are represented.

About the Survey

The survey presents the results of a rare survey exploring racial attitudes toward the presidential nomination process. The study examines racial differences in opinions on the current system of selecting presidential nominees and gauges attitudes on whether the current process should be reformed.

The study reports findings on how feelings of group solidarity among blacks influence their candidate preferences as well as citizen's perceptions on whether the 2008 election cycle will produce a fair and accurate count of the vote. In the context of African American politics, the 2008 presidential election cycle presents black voters with a unique opportunity to play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the Democratic presidential primary, as well as the November general election.

Contact: Tanya Domi, 212-854-5579 or Web: Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy

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