No matter what people want you to think, racism is alive and well in elections nowadays. The days of literacy tests and poll taxes might be gone. In fact, the days of proudly proclaiming your KKK membership are gone as well. But today, when someone walks into the secret voting booth, their emotions do the talking. And in this case, the votes never lie.
When looking at racism, there are really three kinds of groups that can be identified. The first group of people are those that don’t like anyone that doesn’t look like them or has different values. If we use a white person as an example, they would not vote for anyone that isn’t white. They also might not vote for anyone that is of a different religion. These are your people that will refuse to vote for Romney because he is a Mormon. The same applies to race.
The second group might sound the same, but are much different. These are people that don’t like a certain race or ethnic group. Many of these voters might dislike blacks, but are alright with Hispanics. These are the kind of people that would not vote for Kendrick Meek because he is black, but would vote for Marco Rubio. These voters, like the previous group mentioned, are usually in the rural areas of most states.
The final group of voters are a little more complex. Many of these people are actually from the white, middle-class Republican suburbs. These people are the ones that take the stereotype of an issue and turn it into race.
Let me explain this a little more. One issue that hasn’t really been an issue since 1996 is welfare reform. Bill Clinton pretty much destroyed the welfare system back then. Still, sixteen years later, white suburban Republicans will still talk about “people on welfare”, even though it hasn’t been a D.C. issue for nearly two decades. Whenever they talk about people on welfare, they always talk about “lazy people”. And whenever they wish to expand on that, they talk about blacks. Therefore, whenever a Republican voter states “we need to stop welfare”, what they are really saying is “I don’t like black people”, since welfare reform is as much of an issue on the Congressional agenda as Prohibition.
So these are the groups that usually make up the “racists”. And, I hate to say it, most of them are supporters of one party…the GOP. Yes, many might still be registered “Democratic” in north Florida, but that has more to do with the laziness of the voter compared to anything else. A north Florida registered voter doesn’t care ‘what’ they are registered, they just care that they are registered in general. Party label doesn’t mean as much to the average voter as much as we in the political world would like to think that it does.
Anyway, back to looking at the racists. There are two ways that you can look at the existence of racism in the Republican Party. The first one is very simple. Go to YouTube, search “Palin rally racism” or “McCain rally racism” and you have it right there! Nothing equates racism to the GOP better than hours and hours of voters on video specifically saying that they won’t vote for a black guy. Sometimes, YouTube is priceless!
The second, and more scientific way, of looking at racism is by looking at election results. The first signs of race playing out in elections in Florida was back in 1994, when Frank Brogan defeated Doug Jamerson for Commissioner of Education. Jamerson, a black Democrat, actually did carry a number of north Florida counties. But if you compare Jamerson’s election to the race for Secretary of State, there was a good 5%-7% gap between Jamerson’s vote totals in those counties and Ron Saunders’ votes in those north Florida counties. On the other hand, Jamerson did better than Saunders in counties like Orange and Seminole.
Since 1994, there hadn’t been a white Republican vs. black Democrat for statewide office election. Therefore there was nothing to compare the issue of race in north Florida. That was until 2008, when we had President Obama vs. John McCain. In 2006, 2008 and 2010 we saw something that would define the issue of race in Florida.
In our example, we will look at Liberty County (but honestly, most rural Florida counties would work). In 2004, John Kerry only won 35% of Liberty County. We can agree, a pretty good Dubya butt kicking. In 2006, Jim Davis won 48%, bringing down the gap from the Presidential election. But in 2008, Obama only won 28% of the vote. While that is much lower than Davis’ total, it is 7% lower than Kerry’s total. In 2010, Alex Sink won the county by 1.5%.
What caused that 7% gap between 2004 and 2008? Obama won the state in 2008, therefore convention wisdom would usually state that he would have done better in a county like Liberty. If we were to take what Kerry did and what Obama did statewide, Obama should have performed about the same as Kerry. Instead, he saw the lowest vote total for a Democrat ever in that county. What caused that swing? Both where liberals, one from Boston, the other from Chicago. There could only be one explanation for the 7% drop…race.
Race has always played a role in politics in the rural south and will continue to do so. I just isn’t an “in your face” type of issue like it was before. Instead it is more subtle and isn’t talked about in the public debate. But race does make a difference, and election results are the best way to measure it. The best way to observe it is YouTube. Gotta love YouTube!
Even with this racial divide, Republicans would want you to think that it isn’t just whites, but blacks that have this divide as well. Luckily, we have a race we can look at to debunk this myth as well, the 2006 Maryland Senate race between Michael Steele and Ben Cardin. Cardin, a white Democrat, won 74% of the black vote in this race, according to the CNN exit polls. What is even more interesting is if one were to look at the urban-area results on a precinct level, Cardin did even better, getting closer to 90%. Steele did better in more affluent black neighborhoods, especially those around D.C. suburbs. Even so, Cardin won in these areas by very large margins as well. Therefore, the Republican Party and conservatives claiming that black voters are just as racist as white voters simply isn’t true. If that was the case, Steele would be a U.S. Senator right now.
Race is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. On the other hand, it is something that cannot not be addressed directly in political campaigns. A candidate or media organization claiming that someone is a “racist” almost always backfires. And though the candidates aren’t usually racists themselves, many that will vote for these candidate will do so purely on race. And most of those people that vote purely on racist motives usually vote Republican nowadays.
Racism is a sad reality of elections, but it is a reality nonetheless.