Social Conservatism Is the Way the GOP Can Win With Black Voters

To win 20 percent of the black vote—and that’s all they need—Republicans should appeal to socially conservative black Americans.

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Second, the GOP can establish a connection with black voters by promoting traditional values, but to win their votes, the party will need to offer reassurances that smaller government and more reliance on the free market economy does not mean government will abandon civil rights protections and economic safety nets. This is where historical context is paramount. Black Americans’ introduction to market forces and small government came by way of slavery. Thanks to the resolve of remarkable men and women, it was the government that secured our rights, not the free market or even the Christian sensibilities of the social conservatives. But encouraging black Americans to entrust our fate to goodwill and markets is wasted energy.

When the government refused to protect its black citizens, lynching happened. When it abstained from ensuring liberty for blacks, Jim Crow happened. When the government was improperly regulated with little oversight, the Tuskegee experiment and housing fraud happened. Black Americans trust a larger government role because that was how our rights were secured. So the GOP’s message of reduced government is tone-deaf to the black experience in America.

Yet it remains true that even if Republicans did all of the above perfectly, they would not come close to winning even half the black vote. But they don’t have to. All that’s needed is 1 in 5 black votes for the GOP to consistently win general elections. In a paper titled “Blacks and the Republican Party: The 20 Percent Solution,” the authors test the theory of former Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater that claimed 20 percent of the black vote would make the GOP the majority party. The soundness of the math is evinced in gubernatorial races in deep-red states like Haley Barbour’s in Mississippi, Mike Huckabee’s in Arkansas and even George W. Bush’s in Texas—each won more than 20 percent of the black vote on the way to victory at the ballot box. The authors found that the 20 percent was probably correct but the Republican Party was not postured to achieve it.

Social conservatism is the answer.

As the 2014 midterm elections approach, the nation will witness the power of the black electorate. And with the 2016 presidential election looming, the black electorate is poised to be the fashionable choice for intense demographic engagement. By connecting to older black Americans through shared socially conservative views, the GOP can truly contend for the black vote in a general election for the first time in decades.

Theodore R. Johnson III is a writer based in the Washington, D.C., area. He's been a military professor at the Naval War College and was a 2011-2012 White House fellow. Follow him on Twitter.

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Theodore R. Johnson III is a former White House fellow. His writing focuses on race, society and politics. Follow him on Twitter.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.