Black Partisanship Trends, Pre-Obama

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama for president has re-ignited the discussion of African American support for the Democratic and Republican Parties. It’s useful to take a quick look at black party identification patterns prior this election, as a way to provide some perspective on the eventual voting numbers we’ll see this year. Then we’ll be able to gauge just how much of an impact Barack Obama had on black voting behavior.

The following two charts are from reports prepared by the Joint Center for Political Studies. They show trendlines in African American identification with the Democratic and Republican Parties up to 2004.

Chart 1: Percentage of Blacks Who Identify Themselves as Democrats

Chart 2: Percentage of Blacks Who Identify Themselves as Republicans

What’s interesting is this: African Americans under the age of 30 were increasingly identifying themselves as Democrats through 2004. Meanwhile, the African American population overall was trending toward being less Democrat, and more Republican.

That’s an ominous trend for the Republican Party. Given the Obama campaign’s success in engaging both young and black voters, there will almost certainly be an increase in under-30 African Americans who identify themselves as Democrats following this election. The GOP’s job of attracting a new generation of black voters has become much more difficult – and it wasn’t easy before now!

This is in addition to the bad news for Republicans that the Obama candidacy seems to bringing many older blacks back into the Democratic camp.

Some other notes from the Joint Center report:


While the 74 percent of African Americans who identify with the Democratic Party in the Joint Center’s 2004 National Opinion Poll is down from the recent high point (2000), there is ample reason for the Democrats to feel confident about their black support (especially with Senator Barack Obama as their 2008 presidential nominee), because the previous decline in support from young African Americans has been reversed. The 74 percent of African Americans who identify with the Democratic Party consist of 63 percent who clearly identify with the party, and 11 percent who are political independents who “lean” more to the Democratic Party than to the GOP.

Prior to 2004, declines in black Democratic identification had been driven by younger, i.e., under 35 year old, African Americans. In Joint Center national opinion polls conducted prior to 2004, only 50 to 60 percent of 18-to-25-year-old African Americans identified with the Democratic Party (Figure 2). However, since the Bush Administration launched the Iraq war, younger African Americans have moved decisively leftward, with 75 percent identifying with the Democrats in 2004. In the 2004 election, 18-29 year-olds were the only age cohort where Kerry defeated Bush.


Between the presidential election years of 2000 and 2004, the black Democratic presidential vote declined from 90 to 88 percent, which does not represent a statistically significant change. This suggests that the relationship between the Democratic Party and African Americans remained on very solid footing during those years. The black Democratic vote since 1964 has remained in the range of 90 ± 5 percent, except when H. Ross Perot ran as a third-party candidate. With Senator Barack Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket this fall, black support is likely to increase from these already high levels.

The prospects for an increase in the black Republican vote in 2008 are nonexistent. While black public opinion is neither as liberal nor as uniform as observers in the press, politics, and academia have thought, the poor economy, high gas prices, Bush’s unpopularity, and the war in Iraq—coupled with Obama’s popularity—suggest a possible 50 percent decline in black Republican support.

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