African American Attitudes: Opinions and Voting Behavior

CURE Policy Briefing | January 2020

Background and Summary

CURE advances a national agenda to address problems of race and poverty through promoting traditional Christian values, personal freedom and responsibility, and limited government.

There is value in understanding attitudes and political behavior of our major target population – African Americans – so we best know how to present and advance this agenda with this population.

In this short paper, we provide a snapshot of black voting behavior in presidential elections over 80 years, from 1936 to the present. We then compile recent polling data to gain insight into what opinions and attitudes may be driving the political/voting behavior of this population.

African Americans have uniformly voted for the Democratic presidential candidate since 1936. However, in 1964, support of African Americans for Democrat candidates became much more pronounced. What conclusions may be inferred that might differentiate black voting behavior from 1964 to 2016 from 1936 to 1964?

Certainly, a key factor in 1964 was the opposition of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. However, there have been 13 presidential elections since then.

Conclusions we draw from the polling data presented below are:

  1. Black Democrats are ideologically atypical of overall Democratic voters in that black self-identify far less liberal.
  2. On matters related to faith, religion, and morality, black Democrats poll more like white Republicans than they do white Democrats.
  3. On matters concerning perceived fairness and inequality and perceived racism, and sympathies for large, activist government, blacks polls more closely with other Democrats.

It seems reasonable to conclude that black concerns regarding fairness and inequality, and their inclination to believe that government is the means by which these problems can be solved, define black political behavior more than religious values.

This presents an additional question which needs consideration going forward. Why do black Americans feel so strongly that government is the means for addressing fairness and inequality?

We offer one hypothesis here.

Other major changes were taking place in the country when the Civil Rights Act was enacted in the 1960s. At the same time, there was a surge in support for activist government. Along with civil rights, President Johnson championed the “Great Society.” This period brought forth Medicare, Medicaid, government housing and welfare programs as part of the War on Poverty.

Government transfer payments as a percentage of the federal budget increased from 35% in the late 1960s to 70% today.

Because the achievements of the civil rights movement were defined by political activism, it might be reasonable to conclude that perceived benefits of political activism and government solutions in all areas of American life had a disproportionate impact on attitudes of African Americans.

Presidential Elections 1936-2016 – the Black Vote

African Americans have been a stalwart voting bloc for the Democratic Party over the last century. However, 1964, the year in which the Civil Rights act passed into the law, the character of this support changed dramatically, with black support for Democrats sharply increasing, with this reality remaining consistent until now.

In seven presidential elections from 1936 to 1960, average percentage of black vote for the Democratic presidential candidate was 70%. Average support for Republicans was 30 percent. Black support for the Republican candidate reached a peak in 1956 when Eisenhower received 39% of the black vote.

This picture changed dramatically in 1964. The Democratic candidate in 1964, Lyndon Johnson, received 94% of the black vote and the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater received 6 percent.

From 1964 to 2016, the average percentage black vote for the Democratic candidate was 88%, eighteen points higher than the average from 1936 to 1964. The average vote for the Republican candidate in this period was 10%, 20 points less than the 1936-1960 average.

How America has changed since 1964

Certainly the watershed event of 1964 was the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

The support of President Lyndon Johnson for the Civil Rights movement, coupled with the opposition of Republican presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, drove the most pronounced support of black voters for the Democratic Party candidate in history.

However that was more than half a century ago. What else has happened that has changed America?

The presidency of Lyndon Johnson was defined by civil rights but was also defined by the beginning of a new era of big government. Johnson called it the Great Society.

The chart below shows that from 1970 until now, the percentage of the federal budget consisting of transfer payments – funds moving from taxpayers to other private citizens by way of various government programs - doubled. It went from 35% of the federal budget in 1970 to 70% today.

This is one factor to keep in mind in considering the major one time shift in black voting for the Democratic Party in the 1960s.

How American Blacks Ideologically fit the Democratic Party

According to recent Gallup polling, the US breaks down ideologically as follows:

Conservative 37%

Moderate 35%

Liberal 24%

BY PARTY

Republicans

Conservative 73%

Moderate 21%

Liberal 4%

Democrats

Conservative 14%

Moderate 36%

Liberal 49%

BY RACE

Blacks

Conservative 23%

Moderate 44%

Liberal 28%

Whereas almost one of every two Democrats is liberal, only slightly more than one of every four blacks is liberal.

Liberalism seems to define, on average, Democratic Party voters. But black voters do not fit comfortably into this mold.

Ninety four percent of Republicans are either conservative or moderate. Fifty percent of Democrats are either conservative or moderate. Sixty seven percent of blacks are either conservative or moderate.

Ideologically, blacks fall between Republican and Democrat averages. Yet, black voting is almost 90 percent aligned with Democrats.

Other factors defining black voters

Church and Politics

More than any other ethnic group, black Protestants endorse church/clergy involvement with politics.


Religion and morality

Is belief in God necessary to be moral? (Pew Research 2019)

Blacks

Yes 55%

No 44%

Democrats/Lean Democrat

Yes 26%

No 73%

Republicans/Lean Republican

Yes 46%

No 53%

Blacks exceed Democrats (almost twice as many) and Republicans in conviction that belief in God drives moral behavior.

Legalizing same-sex marriage has been a very/somewhat good thing for U.S. society (Pew Research 2019)

White Democrats

Yes 88%

Black Democrats

Yes 52%

Republicans

Yes 41%

Black Democrats more closely resemble Republicans than they do white Democrats regarding same-sex marriage

Society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children (Pew Research 2019)

White Democrats/Lean Dem

Yes 85%

Black Democrats/Lean Dem

Yes 64%

Church Attendance Monthly or more (Pew Research 2019)

White Democrats 29%

Black Democrats 61%

White Republicans 55%

Inequality

U.S. is divided into have/have-nots (Gallup 2019)

Democrats

Yes 57%

No 43%

Republicans

Yes 24%

No 76%

Blacks

Yes 70%

No 29%

Self-Identification as have/have-not (Gallup 2019)

Democrats

Have 52%

Have-not 40%

Republicans

Have 71%

Have-not 18%

Blacks

Have 37%

Have-not 57%

Economic inequality is a major problem in the country today (Pew Research 2019)

White

Yes 39%

Blacks

Yes 66%

Racism is a major problem in the country today (Pew Research 2019)

White

Yes 33%

Blacks

Yes 75%

Job opportunities is a major problem in the country today (Pew Research 2019)

White

Yes 18%

Blacks

Yes 53%

Role of Government

Government should do more to solve problems (Pew Research 2019)

White

Yes 48%

Blacks

Yes 74%

Dem/Lean Dem

Yes 74%

Rep/Lean Rep

Yes 28%

White people benefit a great deal from advantages in society that black people do not have (Pew Research 2019)

White

Yes 19%

Blacks

Yes 68%

Dem/Lean Dem

Yes 49%

Rep/Lean Rep

Yes 7%

For more information, visit urbancure.org or email policy@urbancure.org