the black democratic primary vote is completely predictable
There is a lot of punditry about Bernie Sander’s inability to make a dent in the Black vote. This is crucial because a lot of Hillary Clinton’s delegate lead comes from massive blowouts in the Deep South. Even a small movement in the Black vote would have turned Sander’s near losses in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Missouri into narrow wins.
My approach to this issue – Sanders’ poor performance among Blacks is entirely predictable. Post-Civil Rights, the urban black population became heavily integrated into the mainstream of the Democratic party. The connection is so tight that some political scientists have used the African-American vote as a classic example of “voter capture” – a constituency so tightly linked to a party that there is no longer any credible threat of moving to another party and the party takes them for granted.
If you believe that, then you get a straight forward prediction – Black voters will overwhelmingly support the establishment candidate. Why? Black voters are the establishment in the Democratic party. As a major constituency, they are unlikely to vote against someone who already reflects their preferences. Here’s some evidence:
- 1976: No establishment candidate, but Williams and Wilson (1977) report that Carter solidly won the black vote in every primary state save one.
- 1980: Carter gets about 68% of Black votes overall and even squeaks out a 52% majority of the Black vote in New York, which swung hard to Kennedy.
- 1984: Mondale gets about 60% of the Black vote – against Jesse Jackson.
- 1992: Clinton I gets anywhere from 50% to 75% of the Southern Black vote and ties Jerry Brown with 40% of the Black vote in New York.
- 2000: Gore gets about 80% of the Black vote vs. Bill Bradley.
- 2004: Kerry gets over 80% of the Black primary vote.
- 2016: Clinton II gets over 80% of the Black vote in South Carolina and other states.
The pattern is exceptionally clear. Black voters overwhelmingly support establishment candidates. The only exceptions are when you have an African American candidate of extreme prominence, like Obama the wunderkind or Jesse Jackson the civil rights leader. And then there’s a tipping point where almost the entire voting block switches to a new candidate. So Bernie is actually hitting what a normal challenger hits in a Democratic primary but that simply isn’t enough to win.