Why you should care
Because the future of the GOP could hinge on this issue.
In the chorus of political ads in the fall, one in particular stood out: “Vote and support Ben Carson/ For our next president to be awesome,” went the refrain, rapped by the artist Aspiring Mogul and overlaid with statements from the good doctor himself. Alas, the voters did not listen, and Carson dropped out late last week, saying “I do not see a political path forward.”
As it happens, a recent study calls into question the path forward for any Black Republican hoping to court Black voters.
Black voters are likely to vote for Black candidates — unless they know the candidates are Republicans.
Politics, it turns out, is not skin deep. “African-Americans are more drawn to candidates who sound like them than who look like them,” says lead author David Niven, a political professor at the University of Cincinnati.
To conduct the study, Niven looked at 28 micro-precincts in Ohio made up of exclusively Black voters. In 2014, two Black candidates ran for county offices, only one of which required party affiliation be listed on the ballot. Niven assigned precincts to one of three groups: The first received a glossy mailer with a photo of the candidate and no party mentioned, another got a flier with the photo and headline “Endorsed by the Republican Party” and the third got nothing. He then compared how residents voted for the county candidates versus the top of the Republican ticket that year, Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Those who received mailers without the party label were more likely — in some precincts up to three times so — to vote for the Black candidate than for Kasich. But if they knew the candidate was Republican, there was no change in behavior. (The Republican National Committee did not respond to a request for comment.)
This revelation is particularly meaningful if you’re of the opinion that the Republican message has been continuing to narrow, from George Bush to John McCain to Mitt Romney and now to Donald Trump. Don Scoggins, president of Republicans for Black Empowerment, has been active in the Republican Party for more than 50 years and says conservatives have such a bad rap in the community, skin color doesn’t even come into play at this point. “They have to start talking about things important to all demographics,” he says. But that’s not necessarily easy, either. “The hypocrisy is when they say that they’re pandering to their white base.” Because even if the candidates are Black, the money behind ’em may well still be white.