Are black voters more likely to vote for black candidates, regardless of political party affiliation? Not according to a paper by a scholar from the University of Cincinnati.
Like academics among Democrats or small business owners for Republicans, black people are "in the bag" for one side that it doesn't really much matter if they are taken for granted or their interests are being represented. Basically, a great black Republican will not win among blacks because of the political party, regardless of qualifications, finds David Niven, a University of Cincinnati professor of political science. "There are some very successful African-American Republicans, but those folks don't attract African-American votes. Party matters so much more than race."
At least for now. Obviously at one time the south was staunchly Democrat among whites - because Republicans took away slavery and voted more strongly for the Civil Rights Act. But the candidacy of an overt racist in 1972, Governor George Wallace, who was assumed to have the Democratic Party nomination sewn up before he was shot, caused whites in the southern United States to abandon the party and embrace the Republicans they had once disliked.
So in predicting the past and seeing that black Americans overwhelmingly cast ballots for President Barack Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, it might seem that Republicans would give up and instead go after the larger Hispanic demographic, who are less likely to be entrenched for one side. But the GOP did not do that and instead aggressively recruited black candidates.
But will changing the demographics of the party's candidates change the demographics of public support? Republicans have not tried to win over single women, for example, they seemed happy with losing by appealing only to married women, and as a result the 2012 election result was so predictable by July that even European betting services got every state correct. Was it soul searching? If so, they may be engaged in a lost cause, if Ohio's Franklin County, which includes Columbus, is any indication.
There Niven found what he calls a "fluke" of the electoral map in which overlapping political boundaries create micro-precincts, 28 of which are made up exclusively of black voters. That localization of voters by race allows for the analysis of how they voted at the polls, which Niven was able to test in a pair of county-wide races in the 2014 general election.
That year, two black candidates ran for county offices: Clarence Mingo, the incumbent county auditor, and Rita McNeil Danish, who ran for an open seat on the county common pleas court. In Ohio, the political affiliation of a party running for county auditor is listed on the ballot, but no party affiliation is listed for judicial elections.
Niven randomly assigned the 28 precincts to one of two studies, each of which were subject to one of three experimental conditions, with each conditional subgroup consisting of about 40 voters.
In two of the conditions, Niven mailed a 5.5x8.5 inch glossy flyer to every household with a registered voter. Both mailers contained a photo of the candidate and listed the office they sought, but one mailer included the headline, "Endorsed by the Republican Party" while the other did not. A third subgroup acting as a control group received no mailer.
Niven, who timed the mailings to arrive within the three days prior to the election, examined the results relative to support for the top of the Republican ticket--incumbent Ohio Gov. John Kasich who won re-election that year.
In both races, Niven found that voters who received mailers of the candidate without the party label were more likely to vote for the candidate than for the top of the Republican ticket. The results were even more heightened in the judicial race, where the candidate's party affiliation was also omitted from the ballot.
In that case, voters were nearly three times as likely to vote for the candidate when they didn't know her party affiliation. By contrast, voters who received a mailing listing the party label or no mailing at all, were considerably less likely to support the candidates than top of the Republican ticket, Niven found.
Niven believes the results indicate that while race matters to black voters, it's not their primary political influence. In short: Black voters were more likely to vote for black candidates - unless they knew the candidates were Republicans.
"Simply knowing the candidate was African-American did almost nothing for Republicans," said Niven. "If voters knew the candidates were Republican, they finished below the top of the ticket. If voters didn't know the candidates were Republican, they outperformed the top of the ticket."
Republicans will continue to face an uphill climb in its minority-outreach efforts largely because GOP responses to issues like civil rights and immigration alienate black voters, said Niven.
He points to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, who came under fire in December after it was reported that he spoke at a white supremacist gathering in 2002. Republicans circled the wagons to defend him, including Rep. Mia Love, the newly elected Republican from Utah who is black.
"The kind of African-American Republicans who have advanced to high office seem disconnected or even dismissive of African-American issues and concerns," said Niven. "Republicans have this image that they want to exclude people. If they have that image, nobody cares about your economic or school plans. It's really quite toxic," he said.
Niven acknowledges the study's limitations: The midterm election attracted a notably low voter turnout and given the lower profile of the county races, fewer votes were cast in these races than for the top of the ticket. And the study only examined voting patterns by voters in one region and election.
However, Niven says his findings from those who did vote suggests that building a Republican rainbow coalition is more complicated than simply recruiting black candidates.
And given the rising influence of black voters - Obama's 2012 re-election was powered, in part, by historic black voter turnout - Republicans with an eye on 2016 should take notice, Niven said.
"There are places where Democrats are competitive on the strength of African-American votes, like North Carolina. In Ohio, the African-American vote is the Democrat's base that literally makes them relevant. You take that vote out and Ohio goes from the swingiest of swing states to Oklahoma in terms of national value," he said.
"The bottom line is: For Republicans, it would help if they have some Colin Powell-style Republicans running for office and not Ken Blackwell or Mia Love," said Niven.
Niven presented his research Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in San Francisco.