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Younger and black — but not Democrats

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  • Younger and black — but not Democrats

    The Democratic Party needs to take note of this increasing trend amongst what was once their most soolid block of followers.

    Younger and black — but not Democrats
    By Jonathan J. Cooper

    WASHINGTON — Donovan Armstrong might seem an unlikely swing voter.

    But Armstrong, who manages an East St. Louis restaurant, is part of the so-called "hip-hop generation" defying conventional wisdom that African-Americans are monolithically Democrats.

    Armstrong, 28, says he is an independent voter.

    "I try to read the options, which one is better, and which one would apply to my own living conditions," he said.

    Armstrong isn't alone. In a sharp split from their parents and grandparents, younger African-Americans are increasingly identifying themselves as politically independent, a change that could have powerful implications in Missouri and other swing states, experts say.

    "I think we're on the brink of seeing what could be an extraordinarily huge turning point, possibly the greatest turning point since the civil rights movement," said Keli Goff, author of "Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence," a new book attracting attention in some political circles.

    Even as Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., attracts strong support among African-Americans, some Democrats worry that young black voters will be disillusioned with the party if they feel Obama has been cheated out of the presidential nomination.

    That potential is particularly acute as the Democratic Party debates the proper role of party elders known as superdelegates, most of whom are white. They could decide the party's nominee.

    The race for superdelegates comes amid an environment of decreasing party identity among African-Americans. A survey of young black Americans in urban areas, released this month, showed that more than one in three 18-to-24-year-olds were not affiliated with either major party.

    Another third said they were registered Democrats but considered themselves politically independent, according to the poll, conducted by Suffolk University in Boston.

    This is far different from what polls showed two decades ago, said David Bositis, a senior political analyst who has followed the trend at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based think tank looking at issues important to African-Americans.

    "It would be pretty uniformly Democratic," Bositis said.


    Why is this happening? One reason, Armstrong said, is that the Internet has given his generation better access to information about candidates.

    "Young African-Americans don't want to just follow a cycle. … They want to look into things and form their own opinion instead of just blindly following the party based on their parents' affiliation," he said.

    Changing voting allegiances also can be traced to vastly different life experiences.

    Voters from the "hip-hop generation" were born after the civil rights era and don't have vivid memories of legalized segregation and violent protests, Goff said.

    Older black Americans feel a powerful kinship with the Democratic Party after seeing President Lyndon B. Johnson sign civil rights legislation in 1964, she added.

    "I'll never relate to what that felt like," Goff said. "My mother was spit on when she went to certain schools. That's not the experience of the generation that comes after."

    Richard T. Middleton IV, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said young African-Americans may resent a culture of seniority that characterizes the elder black establishment in the Democratic Party.

    For many leaders in the African-American wing of the Democratic Party, "politics are really nothing more than black vs. white … and how much did you struggle, how much were you discriminated against, how many opportunities did you have to move ahead in life," Middleton said.

    "The younger group may want to make change and make it now," he said.

    The shift among African-Americans tracks closely with increased independence among the electorate as a whole.

    But changes in the habits of black voters, who have been a core base for the Democratic Party since the civil rights movement, could have an especially strong impact on election results.

    If Obama is the Democratic nominee, he could drive up African-American turnout, especially among younger and independent-minded voters.

    Experts said fallout could be felt in Missouri, where elections are notoriously close, and where census figures show the African-American population is growing faster than the white population.

    In 2006, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., captured her seat on the strength of her African-American support despite losing Missouri's white vote by 13 points.

    If future Missouri Democrats can't bank on heavy black support, the outcome could be different.

    "Claire McCaskill does not win the U.S. Senate race if she doesn't get 91 percent of the African-American vote," observed Michael Minta, an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies race and ethnic politics.


    In 2004, President George W. Bush won re-election thanks to his narrow victory in Ohio, which analysts attribute in large part to his relatively strong showing among African-Americans. Sixteen percent of black voters went for Bush in Ohio, compared with 11 percent nationally.

    Often, the question isn't whether independent black voters will vote Democrat or Republican, analysts say. It's whether they'll show up to vote or sit out the election.

    "Democrats can't afford for African-Americans to stay home," Minta said. "Democrats won't carry Missouri in a presidential election if they stay home."

    Some African-Americans say their unwavering support for Democrats has allowed the party to take the black vote for granted.

    But if a third of African-Americans became swing voters, Democratic leaders would have to spend more time talking about issues important to blacks, Goff said.

    "Black Americans have never been in that position," she said. "But I think we're headed to a point where you could see that third emerge."

    Even Obama's fervent black support is a fairly recent development. Before the Iowa caucuses in January, African-American voters were split down largely generational lines between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

    Goff said Obama's early African-American base was independent-minded young black professionals attracted as much to Obama's nonpartisan message as to his perceived ability to move beyond racial division.

    "One of the reasons that he's been so successful among younger white voters is because of his independent streak, and this perception that he talks about politics in a way that gets past a lot of partisan standstill," Goff said.

    "That's the same reason that a lot of younger blacks are supporting him."

    [email protected] | 202-298-6880
    Make America Great For Once.

  • #2
    About time.

    Independence is the only way to go.. None of the straight-party vote bs.


    • #3
      Originally posted by hansolo View Post
      About time.

      Independence is the only way to go.. None of the straight-party vote bs.
      Make America Great For Once.