Special to www.unitedforpeace.org
(Bob Wing is national co-chair of United for Peace and
was the founding editor of War Times newspaper and ColorLines
- The Myth of the Evangelicals and the
- Rightward Motion of Whites
- Controversy over the Latino Vote
- Republican Breakthrough among Blacks?--not
- Asian Americans Trend Democratic
- Native Peoples Vote in Force
- Arab Turnaround
- Looking Backward, Looking Forward
The 2004 presidential contest was a
warning shot across the bow of all progressives. While the president
and the Republican pundits vastly overstate their "mandate,"
progressives need to become clear on the motion of racial politics if
we are to get ourselves in shape for the coming battles.
Many spin doctors would have us believe that the story of the 2004
election turns on evangelicals and moral values, the better to advance
their rightwing agenda in both the Democratic and Republican parties,
not to speak of the halls of power.
But an examination of the exit polls shows something very different
(though not at all new): the centrality of race in U.S. politics. The
bad news is that the Republicans, trumpeting their program of
aggressive war and racism, swung the election by increasing their
share of the white vote to 58 percent. This represents a four-point
gain over 2000; a 12-point gain over 1996 and a grim18-point gain over
The good news is that people of color--African Americans, Latinos,
Native peoples, Asian Americans and Arab Americans--surged to the
polls in unprecedented numbers and voted overwhelmingly in opposition
to the Bush agenda despite an unprecedented Republican attempt to
intimidate them. People of color constituted about 35 percent of new
voters and, despite their dazzling diversity, showed uncommon
A key lesson of this election is that progressives and Democrats need
to stop chasing the Republicans to the right and instead adopt a clear
vision that mobilizes our main social constituencies and wins new
allies. Only a long term strategy that draws deeply and skillfully
from the high moral ground of peace, jobs and equality and refuses to
cede the South and Southwest to the right can enable us to staunch the
country's longstanding movement to the right. Otherwise what Lani
Guinier calls the "tyranny of the (white) majority" will
continue to lead us into authoritarianism and empire.
The bitter truth is that the election marks a substantial and
dangerous victory for the rightwing forces in this country. Despite a
presidency marked by numerous impeachable offenses; despite daily
exposure by the press over many months of the administration's lying
and incompetence; despite both a disastrous war and an unprecedented
loss of jobs; despite an impressive effort by the Democrats, unions
and allied groups to mobilize and protect the vote; despite a massive
voter turnout led by African American voters; despite the fact that
people of color constituted 23 percent of all voters as opposed to 19
percent in the last election, the president turned a 500,000 vote loss
in 2000 into a 3.5 million vote victory and the Republicans increased
their majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Progressives have much to be proud of in our tremendous effort and
substantial impact in the 2004 presidential election. But we must also
face the fact our loss was not the result simply of the Republicans
having more money or of a low voter turnout. The Republicans flat out
organized us and methodically found white voters receptive to their
racist program of "permanent war on terrorism at home and
THE MYTH OF THE EVANGELICALS AND THE RIGHTWARD MOTION OF WHITES
There has been much talk by the punditry about how the evangelicals
were the key to the Republican victory. They counsel the Democrats to
move to the right to remain politically competitive. There was indeed
a tremendous mobilization of Christian religious conservatives (and
National Rifle Association members) to work the campaign for the
Republicans. They were the critical ground troops for the Republicans
but they were not the critical voters.
Alan Abramowitz points out, "Between 2000 and 2004, President
Bush's largest gains occurred among less religious voters, not among
more religious voters." Among those who attend church weekly or
more, his gain was only one point. But among those attending services
a few times a month he gained 4 points. From those attending a few
times a year, he increased his share by 3 points and from those who
never attend services he racked up a 4-point gain.
The emphasis on the evangelical vote is a smokescreen motivated by the
attempt by Republicans (and conservative Democrats) to move the
country rightwards. Meanwhile, most pundits, left and right, refuse to
squarely face the white elephant in the room: race.
The Republican victory turned almost exclusively on increasing its
share of the white vote. In 2000 Bush won the white vote by 12 points,
54-42; in 2004 he increased this to a 17-point margin, 58-41. That
increase translates into about a 4 million vote gain for Bush, the
same number by which Bush turned his 500,000 vote loss in 2000 into a
3.5 million vote victory this time around.
This increase came mainly from white women. Bush carried white men by
24 points in 2000 (60-36) and increased that margin by only one point
in 2004 (62-37). But he increased his margin of victory among white
women from only 1 point in 2000 (49-48) to 11 points in 2004 (55-44).
This accounts for a 4 million plus vote swing for Bush. (Women of
color favored Kerry by 75-24.)
Another overlooked exit poll result is that Kerry actually increased
the Democrats' share of the vote among rural and small town voters and
held steady among suburbanites. However, his share of the vote in
cities fell considerably. In cities of 500,000 or more Kerry won 60
percent of the vote, compared to 71 percent for Gore. Bush increased
his big city vote by 13 points, from 26 percent in 2000 to 39 percent
in 2004. We are apparently looking at a significant rightward motion
among white women in big cities, a real blow to progressive strategy.
CONTROVERSY OVER THE LATINO VOTE
The other issue that has disguised the centrality of race in this
campaign has been the National Exit Poll (NEP) survey of the Latino
vote. The poll concluded that Latinos voted for Kerry by 53-44, a
steep decline from Gore's 62-35 victory among Latinos in 2000. But the
NEP's results are self-contradictory. Larger Latino exit polls show a
tremendous Latino turnout that went for Kerry by as much as 68
Since the NEP polls only 13,000 voters, the size of the sample for
Latinos was very small and therefore probably not very accurate.
Latinos make up eight percent of the electorate, and their geographic
location (more urban) and income/education (lower) are quite different
from the majority white population that shapes the polling sample.
In addition, the NEP does not include the numerous Latino
nationalities in appropriate proportions. This is important because
these nationalities differ politically. For example Cubans tend to
vote much more Republican than all other Latino groups, while Puerto
Ricans tend to vote more Democratic.
More importantly the NEP's conclusion about the national Latino vote
is not compatible with its own state-by-state polling results. For
example, the NEP says that Bush won a mind-bending 64 percent of
Latino votes in the South, the region with the most Latino voters (35
percent of the national total). But it simultaneously reported that
Bush won 56 percent of Latino votes in Florida, the state where Cuban
Republicans make up most of the Latino vote and 59 percent of the
Latino vote in Texas. Something is clearly wrong when it is reported
that the two states where Latinos are most likely to vote Republican
voted less Republican than the South as a whole.
Indeed it is statistically impossible for both the NEP's results for
individual states in the South and its conclusion that 64 percent of
all Latinos in the South voted for Bush to be correct.
The William C. Velásquez Institute, as it has for many elections,
performed a much larger exit poll of Latinos. The Institute polled
1,179 Latino respondents in 46 precincts across 11 states, and took
into account the unique demographic characteristics of Latinos. Its
survey concluded that Kerry won the Latino vote by 68-31, a strong
showing in the face of unprecedented efforts by Republican operatives
and Catholic priests to sway Latinos the other way.
It also found that 7.6 million Latinos voted, a record number that
represents an increase of an impressive 1.6 million (27 percent) over
2000. This turnout was even more remarkable considering the widespread
attempts by Republicans to intimidate Latino voters and the chronic
shortages of Spanish language ballots.
Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Velásquez Institute, concludes,
"President Bush tried unsuccessfully to increase his support
among Latinos. The Democratsmessage appears to have resonated with
REPUBLICAN BREAKTHROUGH AMONG BLACKS?--NOT
The Republican spin-meisters, as well as some "centrist"
Democrats, are even claiming a Republican breakthrough among African
American voters based on appealing to conservative Christian values.
However, veteran political consultants Cornell Belcher and Donna
Brazile counter: "Those who trumpet inroads by Bush into the
African American vote ignore history and show a strong prejudice
against basic arithmetic."
The NEP concluded that Kerry won the black vote by an overwhelming
88-11 percent. Although this is two points fewer than Gore won in
2000, those two points are well within the margin of error of the
poll. Even if correct, the results indicate that Bush received a lower
percentage of the black vote than Nixon, Ford, Dole or Ronald Reagan
This outcome is even more notable when one considers that, according
to a Nov. 17 public memo by Belcher and Brazile, fully 60 percent of
African Americans in the key battleground states, where the
Republicans messaged heavily against abortion and gay marriage,
consider themselves "born again Christians."
Their polling also indicates that, "The more likely African
Americans are to be frequent church goers, the more likely they are to
identify themselves as a strong Democrat." Clearly when pundits
argue that the Republicans won by appealing to "moral
values" or "evangelicals," they should really qualify
their statements racially.
Perhaps most importantly, Belcher and Brazile point out that more than
three million new black voters thronged to the polls in 2004,
accounting for more than 20 percent of the total voter increase. They
also erased the traditional 6-10 point voter participation gap between
whites and blacks and increased their percentage of all voters from 10
percent in 2000 to almost 12 percent this year.
Black voters defeated the unprecedented Republican voter intimidation
and suppression effort in the run-up to the election. Belcher and
Brazile conclude that, "The real story is the reawakening of
civic participation by African Americans in 2004."
ASIAN AMERICANS TREND DEMOCRATIC
Asian Americans also surged to the polls in historic numbers and, in
all their great internal diversity, voted overwhelmingly Democratic.
The political trajectory of Asian voters has been striking. Like most
immigrant groups, most Asians have historically registered and voted
Democratic. However, as their incomes rose and the percentage of Asian
voters who had fled Asian socialist countries climbed as a result of
the 1965 immigration reform act, many became "Reagan
Democrats" in the 1980s. By the 1990s a higher percentage of
Asians were registered as independents than any other racial/ethnic
Asians were not included in national exit polls until 1992. In that
election, won by Clinton, their Republican and independent bent showed
through, with Bush Sr. receiving 55 percent of the Asian vote, Perot
15 percent and Clinton only 31 percent. However, since 1992 Asians
have turned strongly toward the Democrats. Clinton won 43 percent in
1996, Gore won 54 percent and Kerry at least 58 percent. This trend is
probably connected to the hard right turn of the GOP in the 1990s,
especially its fierce attacks on immigrants.
The NEP sample of Asian American voters was tiny, as Asians represent
only 2-3 percent of all voters. By contrast, the Asian American Legal
Defense and Education Fund conducted a multilingual, non-partisan poll
of 11,000 Asian voters in eight states. Mindful of the diversity among
Asians, it surveyed them in 23 Asian languages and dialects as they
left 82 polling places in 20 cities in New York, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia, Michigan and
AALDEF executive director Margaret Fung said: "The record turnout
of Asian American voters demonstrated our community's extraordinary
interest in the electoral process this year." A tremendous 38
percent of Asian voters reported that they were first time voters
despite what AALDEF called "an array of barriers that prevented
them from exercising their right to vote."
The poll found that Asian Americans favored John Kerry over George
Bush by 74-24 percent. First timers voted for Kerry by 78-20. A Los
Angeles Times poll of 3,357 California voters found that 64 percent of
Asian Americans voted for Kerry and 34 percent for Bush.
NATIVE PEOPLES VOTE IN FORCE
The National Congress of American Indians spearheaded Native Vote
2004, a nationwide voter registration and turnout effort. In a press
release dated Nov. 3, NCAI President Tex Hall reported, "Native
voters turned out to the election polls in greater numbers for this
election day than any other in history." The release documented
voter turnout successes across Indian country, including a doubling of
Native voters in Minnesota. This show of political force was
especially impressive considering widespread reports of Native voter
intimidation by Republicans.
Although no exit polls on Native peoples are available, the
county-by-county map of the 2004 vote indicates that the Native vote
was largely Democratic. In addition, the NEP results by race shows the
"Other" vote (which includes but is not limited to Native
voters) as going for Kerry by 57-43. A Democratic Native vote would be
in line with historical trends and pre-election polling.
The NCAI states that "The 2004 election will be the first time
Native votes will be quantified in a way to benchmark the population
for future elections" and that "rising political clout [by
Native voters] will only grow going forward."
The only available analysis of Arab American voters indicates a major
political about face by this group. According to a Zogby International
poll, George Bush carried the Arab vote by 46-38 in 2000, with a
strong 13 percent choosing Ralph Nader. The final Zogby poll for 2004
found Kerry winning by a landslide 63-28-3.
Arab voters contributed to Kerry's slim victories in Michigan, where
they represent 5 percent of voters, and Pennsylvania, where they
constitute 1.5 percent of the electorate. The Zogby poll indicates
that Bush carried Arab Orthodox voters by one point, Arab Catholics
favored Kerry 55-34-5 and Arab Muslims voted overwhelmingly for Kerry,
83-6-4. Both immigrant and U.S. born Arab voters went strongly for
There are no figures available on Arab American voter turnout but,
according to the Arab American Institute, there was an unprecedented
Arab Get Out the Vote effort spearheaded by Yalla Vote. The Institute
reports that Arabs organized GOTV efforts in 11 states that directly
contacted at least 300,000 Arab American voters.
The Bush administration has rudely informed Arab Americans that they,
like other immigrant groups from the Global South before them, are not
just part of the "melting pot." They are also a group that
is singled out by the government, the media and much of the public for
racist stereotyping and harsh treatment.
As they have been increasingly treated like a racially oppressed
group, Arab Americans have responded by voting like other people of
Taken together, people of color represented 23 percent of the total
vote, but they accounted for about 35 percent of Kerry's tally. Their
sense of political urgency was demonstrated by the fact that they
represented about 35 percent of first time voters in this election.
They are, unquestionably, the main base of the Democratic Party and
the most avid anti-Bush constituencies.
White people and people of color are tremendously diverse groups and
neither vote uniformly, but they are clearly trending in opposite
political directions. How can we staunch the one and encourage the
LOOKING BACKWARD, LOOKING FORWARD
The political map of Election 2004 has a depressing but telling
resemblance to the pre-Civil War map of free versus slave states and
territories. And, although blacks and other people of color now have
the right to vote, the outcome of the electoral college vote in the
South shows that the 55 percent of black voters who still reside there
have as little impact on the presidential race today as they did when
they had no right to vote at all.
The same disenfranchisement afflicts Latinos in the Southwest and
Native voters in the heartland. Quiet as its kept, the racist remnants
of slavery and the Monroe Doctrine are alive and well in the political
life, institutions and consciousness of Americans of all colors and
classes up to today.
Racism--at home and abroad--is a central element of the Republican
"moral values" and strategy. And racism is conciliated if
not actively promoted by the Democratic focus on winning more white
voters by moving to the right while taking voters of color virtually
The Democratic refusal to mount a fight for electoral reform and for
the Southern vote leaves all its residents to the tender mercies of
racist white fundamentalists, oil magnates, sugar barons and
militarists. And it disarms progressives' ability to invoke the
political and moral weight of the fight for racial and economic
justice that still has deep Southern roots. And so it also is with
urban racism and the burgeoning issue of immigrant rights concentrated
(though by no means exclusively) in the Southwest.
It is about time for progressives, including those in the Democratic
Party, to show the same basic common sense that the right has
demonstrated. We should prioritize the issues and organization of our
most powerful social bases as the foundation upon which to extend our
influence to the population at large. It is time to stop chasing the
Republicans--and the money--to the right. It is time to develop and
fight for a coherent progressive political vision and set of policies
that appeal to the positive sentiments of all people, and to fight for
this vision over the long haul.
The fight for social and economic progress now, as in the past, cannot
be won without challenging the racist, militarist right in its
historic Southern heartland and its deep Southwestern echoes. We must
have the confidence that skillfully doing so will win increased
support from whites as well as people of color.
This is not just rhetoric. The future of our country and the
well-being of the world depend on us. We cannot stop the right's
incessant drive to dominate the world's resources and to steamroll all
opposition to that program unless we pose a clear alternative. A
powerful vision of peace, jobs and justice is our only chance to
mobilize the democratic sentiments and courage of all the people of