By Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich
Wednesday, November 15, 2000
The swing-vote power of the African-American women's vote has been largely overlooked, dismissed or relegated to footnote status, although it has determined key races. But appreciation could mean successful strategies for voter education and mobilization.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Media tracking and reporting on the African-American women's vote as a major determinant in the national and many state and local races on Nov. 7, 2000, has been abysmal, in spite of hard evidence that African-American women provided the dramatic margin of victory in both the 1992 and the 1996 presidential elections.
Not only are there no easily available data showing how this important bloc voted, but also there has been virtually no inclusion of black women in news media's gross-count statistics, either in charted data or in narrative examinations of voter participation. Only The New York Times' Portrait of American Politics, published Sunday, provides detailed national statistics on African-American women voters, but even that had scant demographic specifics.
Yet, the data that are available clearly indicate that many of this year's election winners owe their victories to the votes of blacks, particularly black women who are almost two-thirds of black voters.
In the presidential race in Pennsylvania, white voters selected Texas Gov. George W. Bush over Vice-President Al Gore, by 50 percent to 48 percent. Yet, the seven percent of blacks who voted gave 90 percent of their votes to candidate Gore, thus raising his vote harvest to a 51 percent winning majority. Approximately 5 percent of all the state's voters were black women.
(Estimates of black women's 2000 voter participation are projections of actual 1996 black women's voting by state, adjusted by 2000 Voters News Service's statewide exit polling of women voters and black voters.)
In Illinois, white voters nearly tied Bush (49 percent) and Gore (48 percent), only to have a Gore victory determined by a 14 percent black vote, 92 percent of which went to candidate Gore, pushing his statewide majority of 54 percent into the winner's column. An estimated 10 percent of the winning tally was from African-American women's votes.
In California, another state in which white voters gave candidate Bush 48 percent to candidate Gore's 47 percent, the 7 percent black vote joined with a 14 percent Hispanic vote to provide Gore with a 54 percent statewide victory over Bush. The black and Hispanic women's portion of that state's overall vote is estimated at eight percent.
New York State, consistently predicted as an even probability for Senatorial contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick A. Lazio, delivered an overwhelming victory to First Lady Rodham Clinton. The New York Times reported that "white women, a group made up mostly of Republicans and independents that resisted Mrs. Clinton until the end of the campaign, came to support her over Mr. Lazio by 50 percent to 47 percent."
Several other factors influencing the votes of white women were recited also. The media have not so far revealed, however, the exit poll results reflecting Clinton's total black vote--and black women's vote--comparable to the white women's voting statistics printed in full detail. Projections based on New York State's black vote for Democratic candidate Gore, and upon the increase of Mrs. Clinton's final tally to a 12-point win over Lazio, indicate that over 90 percent of black women voted for winner Clinton.
Other states, including Michigan, Maryland, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Georgia and Missouri, show a similar pattern, with Bush defeating Gore by margins of one percent to a high of nine percent among white voters--only to have these margins reversed when the black vote is factored in.
It is appalling, therefore, although not surprising, that exit polling data about African-American voters--women and men--are treated so indifferently. These data, showing black voter participation as a significant determinant of outcomes in a number of races, are totally unavailable to those outside the media organizations who own the data collected by the Voter News Service until later this month. Unfortunately, reporters having immediate access to these rich statistics have not found them to be consequential to their in-depth, post-election observations and analysis, thus implying, by omission, their irrelevance.
Adding to this indifference toward the details of black voter demographics and participation has been the equally dismissive attitudes by the mass media and mainstream commentary about African-American perspectives on the election. Very few, if any, black pundits, and reportedly no black women, have appeared on major network television or radio to assess the impact of African-American voting on the African-American community or on national, state and local races.
Thus, almost no data about black voters from exit polls have been publicly introduced to explain a number of election outcomes which are remarkable or perplexing. For example, the defeat of Kentucky's black Democrat Eleanor Jordan, who challenged incumbent white Republican Congresswoman Ann Northup, has gone unanalyzed, although Jordan is the first-ever African American candidate for national office from Kentucky. Moreover, Jordan, who was defeated by nine points, nonetheless won 44 percent of the vote in this hotly contested race which was surrounded by controversy involving the incumbent and several black churches.
The Senate victory of the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan is attributable in large part to African-American memories of defeated Sen. John Ashcroft's turncoat behavior during the failed Federal Court of Appeals nomination of African-American Missouri Chief Justice Ronnie White. Justice White, the first African-American to become the Chief Justice of the Missouri State Supreme Court, was denied Senate confirmation in an opposition fight fueled by Ashcroft and joined by Missouri's junior senator, Christopher "Kit" Bond, whom black Missouri voters deliberately and non-traditionally had supported in his defeat of the Democratic candidate in 1998.
The swing-vote power of African-Americans, and particularly of black women, has been largely ignored, relegated to a footnote in elections where it in fact has been the deciding factor, and has been indifferently reported. Thus, a fuller, more fact-based appreciation of the difference which black women's votes often makes has been obscured, distorting insights into future successful strategies for voter education and mobilization.
Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, Ph.D., a political scientist and policy analyst, is Executive Director of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc., a 23-year-old national confederation of the 26 major civil rights and service organizations.
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