50 Years of Black Loyalty to Democrats Hasn’t Fixed Racial Disparities

The Democratic Party has not worked to capture the Black vote for over 50 years. As a result, Black interests have not received adequate recognition or redress. From a strategic standpoint, party leaders design platforms to appeal to demographics needed to win the election — not to cater to a group whose support is already guaranteed. However, Black Americans continue to hand over votes to the Democratic party without question. Every Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 has won at least 80 percent of the Black vote, and no Republican has won the majority of the Black vote since the Great Depression. This devotion has been fostered by shifting demographic realities, racial policies, and a desire to improve the condition of Black people in general. As a result, and perhaps misguidedly, no racial group in America has remained as consistently and reliably devoted to any political party as Black people are to Democrats.

Frederick Douglass once called the Republican Party the “party of freedom and progress.” In context, Douglass’ claim makes sense; the party of Lincoln was responsible for the end of American slavery. During the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction, and following the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, most Black people supported the Republican Party. The Black vote remained decidedly Republican until 1936, when some Black people voted for FDR in search of a remedy for the hardships experienced during the Great Depression.

Just as the politics of race first attracted Black people to the Republican Party, race played a major factor in the large-scale Black flight from the party of Lincoln. After the Republican Party used Barry Goldwater’s blatant disapproval of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a strategy to bolster party support, Black support for the Republican Party waned almost overnight. In addition, the Great Migration caused the Democratic Party to recognize Black interests and place greater emphasis on forming coalitions with Black voters in northern cities. Black people had a valid reason to flock to the Republican party upon their emancipation from bondage.

Today, Black commitment to the Democratic party has become an almost inherent feature. But the question remains: has it been worth it?

Fifty years later, the Economic Policy Institute reports that Black people have made “no progress” in regards to incarceration and unemployment. Black people are no more likely to own a home today than in 1968. In some ways, Black populations have actually regressed. The Black incarceration rate has tripled in the last 50 years. Former President Bill Clinton admitted in 2015 that signing the 1994 crime bill containing the “three strike rule” worsened the nation’s mass incarceration problem. The unemployment rate has increased, and the average Black household income has decreased over the past 20 years. NYU professor Alma Carten’s analysis of welfare policy over a 50-year period demonstrated that liberal policies have “from their very inception, been discriminatory.”

Black students remain significantly less likely to graduate from high school than their white peers. At the college level, the gap in graduation rates between Black and white students has gotten larger instead of smaller. The New York Times reported that the No Child Left Behind law failed to close academic achievement gaps between Black and white students. Racial disparities continue to seep over into the health realm as well. Ethnic minorities are more likely to be uninsured in nearly every state, and although the gap has narrowed over the years, Black people continue to live shorter lives than white people.

The political power first granted to Black folks by the Reconstruction amendments, and later actualized by Voting Rights Act of 1965, should have provided the tools to translate power into relevant policy and legislation, providing redress to socioeconomic disparities. However, the dismal statistics on the status of Black progress demonstrates that one or more parts of this equation has gone awry.

In part, the apparent eclipsing of Black political power is a symptom of the nation’s electoral structure. The two party system provides room for only two dominant political parties — Democrats and Republicans — to play a major role in country-wide politics. As a result, minority groups like Black Americans can either merge with one of the two major parties, or form a third party and attempt to build enough momentum to capture a sizable portion of the electorate. The first option comes with risks. If Black people continuously give their votes to the Democratic party without requiring its candidates to cater to their specific needs, political power would not translate to relevant legislation that addresses racial disparities.

If they do not form coalitions to hold elected officials accountable, Black Americans will end up where they are today: 50 years of voting and no progress to show for it.

Whether Black people choose to vote Democrat, Republican, or Independent, one truth remains: popular sovereignty, one of the six principles on which the United States Constitution was built, dictates that the government rules only by the people’s consent. We can exert the power we hold as the people by voting not based on inherited ideology, but with regards to relevant policy interests, even if it means moving away from the traditional and broad-based political parties. The Black vote shouldn’t be guaranteed to anyone. Political parties should have to work to earn the Black vote by recognizing Black interests, forming relevant policy, and appealing to Black voters.

While Black people have historically clung to the Democratic party to escape the pervasive racism of the GOP, this commitment has proved fruitless. Many of the most prominent liberal initiatives have failed to translate to significant social progress for Black populations.

There may not be a single path for the pursuit of Black social progress in the United States. However, in a nation as democratic as this one, there is no reason for the next generation of Black Americans to be subjected to the same gaps, disparities and inequities as their grandparents.

About the Author

Niara Savage is a Fisk University student and a political correspondent for The Nashville Voice online newspaper. Her debut novel, The Killing of Gregory Noble, was published in 2018 and explores American police brutality. She is passionate about social justice issues relating to education and healthcare, and plans to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology.