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Dispelling Ignorance About African American Conservatives.--

In reading Erin Aubry Kaplan's op-ed on black conservatives, which Eugene Volokh dissected, I was struck not only by the argumentation that so disgusted Eugene, but also by the level of ignorance about just how common African American conservatives are.

Last year I was working on an article or chapter on the subject. While in the last decade black conservatives are very common, roughly as common as black liberals, black Republicans are relatively few in number. My discussion started with an analysis of General Social Survey data:

Except for a brief period in the early and mid-1980s, from 1974 through 1994, more African-Americans identified as liberal (35.1%) than identified as conservative (23.0%). Then in the last five GSSs (from 1996 through 2004), there has been no significant difference in self-identification: 27.6% of African-Americans identified as conservative, compared to a virtually identical 27.7% identifying as liberals. In the most recent 2004 GSS, there was also no significant difference (30.0% conservative v. 26.8% liberal). Thus, for about two decades there were more black liberals than conservatives, but according to the GSS, for about the last decade there were roughly as many of each.

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Lest one think that the level of black conservatives in the GSS data is so high that it is an artifact of the database used, I examined data from six surveys from Pew Research Center, one from each year 2000-2005 (Chart 2). Overall in these six Pew Surveys, 28.8% of African-Americans identified as conservative, while only 23.4% of African-Americans identified as liberal. In none of these six individual surveys are the differences between black liberals and black conservatives significant. Yet combining the data from all six Pew surveys together, significantly more African-Americans identify as conservatives (28.8%) than identify as liberals (23.4%). In the most recent Pew Survey with released data [at the time I did this analysis] (the January 13, 2005 survey), however, the numbers of black conservatives (24.74%) and black liberals (24.70%) are virtually identical.

(click to enlarge}

In one last check, I examined the 2002 and 2004 American National Election Studies (pre-election surveys), the most recently released years of ANES data. The ANES initially asks an ideology question in a way to encourage nonresponse: in 2002 of the 93 African-Americans placing themselves on a 7-point liberal/moderate/conservative scale, 42.4% identified as liberals and 33.0% identified as conservatives, a statistically insignificant difference. When asked if they had to choose would they choose liberal or conservative, again the differences in ideology were insignificant. Of the 146 African-Americans answering the question, there were no significant differences: 48.4% identified as liberal and 44.0% identified as conservative.

The 2004 ANES also shows no significant differences, but reverses the pattern in point estimates: in 2004 of the 106 African-Americans initially indicating their ideology, 20.9%% identify as liberals and 27.2% identify as conservatives, a statistically insignificant difference. When asked if they had to choose would they choose liberal or conservative, of the 184 African-Americans answering the question, there were no significant differences: 37.9% identified as liberal and 47.6% identified as conservative.

Thus in recent years, roughly equal numbers of African-Americans have identified as conservative as liberal. Of the five most recent General Social Surveys (1996-2004), six Pew Research Center studies (2000-2005), and the two most recent National Election Studies (2002 and 2004), none by itself reported statistically significant differences in the proportions of African-American conservatives and liberals. In these thirteen studies, ten reported insignificantly more black conservatives and three reported insignificantly more black liberals. If one combines these GSS studies together and these ANES studies together, still neither group is statistically significant. If one combines the Pew studies together, however, the differences are statistically significant and the direction of the effect is contrary to the stereotype: there are significantly more black conservatives than black liberals in the six Pew studies. One might also note that in the most recent studies released by the GSS (2004), ANES (2004), and Pew (January 13, 2005), there is not the slightest hint that black liberals are more numerous because all very slightly and insignificantly find more black conservatives.

I omit my discussion of unmeasured sources of likely error, but chiefly they are: (1) conservatives are more likely to be home to be surveyed, and (2) there are strong disincentives for black conservatives to self-report as conservatives (as the LA Times op-ed unintentionally illustrates).

Returning to the Erin Aubrey Kaplan's op-ed, it would be hard to be as wrong as the author is about the facts. Kaplan depicts black conservatives as both rare and exceptionally loyal, when the opposite is true: black conservatives are very common, but are far from loyal to the Republican Party; indeed, most self-identified black conservatives are Democrats.

UPDATE: In response to a comment about the views of black conservatives on particular issues, here is a link to a simple table I prepared reporting 1996-2004 General Social Survey data. The table details black conservative views on several issues: party identification (PARTYID), two abortion questions (ABNOMORE, ABDEFECT), requiring permits to own a gun (GUNLAW), affirmative action (racial preferences in hiring and promotion, AFFRMACT), premarital sex (PREMARSX), big government (HELPNOT), availability of birth control for teenagers aged 14-16 without parental consent (PILLOK), and prayer in public schools (PRAYER).

Black conservatives tend to be social conservatives, not economic conservatives. For example, consider an issue not in the table of data: the morality of gay and lesbian sex. In the 1996-2004 surveys combined, 76% of black conservatives think that gay sex is "always wrong," compared to 72% of other blacks, 72% of nonblack conservatives, and 48% of nonblack nonconservatives.

In general, however, African American conservatives seem to be somewhat more like other African-Americans than like other conservatives, but things vary a lot depending on the issue. Indeed, 57% of African American conservatives report being Democrats, compared to only 10% who view themselves as Republicans. Another 4% of black conservatives are independents who lean Republican.

Those interested in the wording of GSS questions may search the Codebook at the ICPSR site.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Why Would Blacks Become Republican?,
  2. Dispelling Ignorance About African American Conservatives.--
  3. Why Did He Steal? Well, Partly Because He's Black:
SuperChimp:
Jim,

Thanks for the interesting post. Although I'm not sure if you have much of a background in Voting Rights Law, this data seems to directly contradict the assumptions underlying much of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Do you have any opinion on the matter?
3.20.2006 11:11pm
James Lindgren (mail):
SuperChimp:

Thanks for the suggestion. I know very little about the Voting Rights Act.

Yet blacks tend to identify as Democrats (yes, even black conservatives), so I'm not sure if the assumptions underlying the Act are false.

I'm just getting into what black conservatives believe, but I think that they are mostly social and religious conservatives, not economic conservatives.
3.20.2006 11:22pm
SLS 1L:
What do we know about the substantive policy positions of self-identified black conservatives?
3.21.2006 12:40am
James Lindgren (mail):
What do we know about the substantive policy positions of self-identified black conservatives?


They are closer to the views of other African Americans than to other conservatives.
3.21.2006 1:03am
SR (mail):
So I guess there are many black "conservatives." However we have no idea what their policy positions are, only that they like to call themselves "conservatives." Oh, and one other thing, they almost without fail vote Democrat. So I guess that black conservatives are quite common, its only rare to find a black who acts like a conservative. Thanks for exploding the myth that there are not many black conservatives.
3.21.2006 1:08am
Randy R. (mail):
Okay, I'd like to add a little spice to this thread. First, I'm a white guy. (Gay, too, if that matters to you) Second, I served for many years as union steward in the federal government, and most of the people I respresented were blacks. When I stepped down, I really learned how much they respected me because I really fought like hell for them. I say this to deflect any charges of racism.

After having worked in the federal government for over 12 years, I learned a few things. One of the biggest is never trust a black Republican. I know I'll get hell for this, but it's true, at least in my case. We had black supervisors, and some were good, some were bad -- little difference from the white ones. However, when we had Republican administrations, we sometimes had blacks installed in political positions, and they proceeded to rip apart the very foundations of our agencies. And the people they most went after to harass, demote, and terminate? Other black people. It was as though they had to prove to their bosses how tough they were going to be on their own people.

I could go on with worse observations, but I'll stop here to see what sort of fire bomb I just created. Go at it folks!
3.21.2006 1:40am
James Lindgren (mail):
SR,

Do you really expect detailed analyses on demand?

Well, here they are: http://volokh.com/files/blkcon22.doc. I ran them just because you asked (and it took some time). The question wording can be obtained if you Google "GSS codebook."

I ran 2 abortion questions, party id, gun control, affirmative action, premarital sex, big govt, availability of birth control for teenagers without parental consent, and prayer in public schools.

Jim Lindgren
3.21.2006 2:48am
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
For a decade or more, in survey after survey, blacks report more conservative views than an average Democrat on nearly every social issue: death penalty, school vouchers, faith-based initiatives, prayer in school, and gay marriage. The one glaring, winner-take-all exception is affirmative action.

It's quite likely that your average educated black conservative is *more* "tolerant" (in the liberal sense of the word) than a black Democrat from a rural backwater or an inner city project.

Kaplan's article was moronic and insulting for the reasons Eugene mentioned, but I just don't see much point in discussing African Americans with the same political spectrum that we use for whites. For blacks, it's all about affirmative action. For: Democrat. Against: Conservative.

If there's anyone other than Powell or Rice on the list of exceptions, he's been awfully quiet.
3.21.2006 3:47am
Ryan Waxx (mail):
> Randy R.

The plural of ancedote is not data.

Less bigotry please.
3.21.2006 7:46am
Public_Defender:
One reason many black people may identify with the modern Democratic Party is the shameless race baiting of some leading Republicans.


Remember when Ronald Reagan wooed White voters by promising to stop making their kids go to school with (horrors of horrors) black kids?

Remember when Reagan went to Philadelphia, Mississippi (where Medgar Evers was murdered) to campaign for "state's rights," a term he knew his audience defined as "the right for Southern Whites to keep Blacks in their place"?

Remember Trent Lott's coziness with groups that descend from the old White supremacy groups?

Remember Jesse Helms' anti-affirmative action ad that complained that a White man lost his job to a Black man?


The modern Republican party also welcomed the racist Dixiecrats who left the Democratic party when the Democratic party continued to support civil rights. Do you think Black voters wouldn't notice?

While the Democratic party is far from perfect, the modern Republican party has relied on racist campaigns to appeal to racist White voters.

Of course, not all Republicans are racists (some of my best friends are Republicans), but it isn't surprising that many Black voters with some conservative views would not feel at home in the Republican Party.
3.21.2006 7:56am
Richard Riley (mail):
I think the large number of black conservatives - an interesting politico-demographic point that Jim Lindgren is right to point out - is a consequence of the large number of black evangelical Christians. On many "social issues," black churchgoers are right in line with the (white) "Christian right." So it's perfectly appropriate to recognize black conservatives for most purposes as true conservatives in the contemporary sense of the word.

But I agree with Public_Defender - for very many African Americans the key party-political issue is which party seems more supportive of black advancement, and that's no contest. That's why blacks, "conservative" or otherwise, tend to be Democrats, and I just don't see social issues changing that party identification for most African Americans any time soon.
3.21.2006 8:20am
Taimyoboi:
"One reason many black people may identify with the modern Democratic Party is the shameless race baiting of some leading Republicans."

This on a post that was prompted, in part, by a shameless race-baiting article written by a Democrat...

"The modern Republican party also welcomed the racist Dixiecrats who left the Democratic party when the Democratic party continued to support civil rights."

Except for Senator Byrd, former member of the KKK, although in his favor he did quit after some time.

One possible reason why there is such uniformity in voting among blacks is in part due to the impression that is given by posts like this and the LAT article.
3.21.2006 9:54am
Justin (mail):
Gee, which type of race baiting is going to upset an African American more with the baiter: race baiters who paint Republicans as racist or race baiters who paint Democrats as n*****lovers?
3.21.2006 10:50am
BobH (mail):
Public_Defender:

You know, actually I don't "[r]emember when Ronald Reagan wooed White voters by promising to stop making their kids go to school with (horrors of horrors) black kids." Can you provide details, please? When did Reagan make this promise? To whom, exactly? Where? Under what circumstances? Was it in a particular speech, or are you synthesizing from other things he said? If so, what were those things and when did he say them?

Please provide direct quotes. And please note that I ask these questions NOT as a fan of Ronald Reagan; quite the opposite. But it's easy to make assertions based on impressions, and often that kind of assertion is really nothing more than an impression, i.e., not true.
3.21.2006 12:22pm
Kazinski:
Reagan actually had a very good record on civil rights, he firmly believed in a colorblind society and he lived those beliefs in his personal life. He just didn't bleive in the Great Society solution of bigger government as an answer to every problem. His first public speech was at a memorial service for a Japanese American War hero right after WWII. The service was specifically planned as part of a campaign to help reduce the animosity for Japanese Americans and to help integrate them back into the society after the war. As a football player in college he brought a black teammate home to his parents house when the team was on a road trip, because black player wasn't allowed into the teams hotel.
3.21.2006 1:07pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Taimyboi:

It is not really an answer to the criticism of contemporary Republican appeals to white bigots to say that once, a long time ago, Sen. Byrd was a member of the KKK. It's a nice talking point, repeated ad nauseum by some Republican commentators. But it is part of a category of Republican non-answers to the charges of race-baiting. Other Republican non-answers include pointing to the appointments of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice (Bush gets credit for both appointments, but seriously, that's a "some of my best friends are black" argument).

The point is, while the Republican party establishment, and its national candidates, certainly say the right things about race, they also know that a lot of people with less than progressive attitudes about the subject vote Republican. Thus, confederate flags, Bob Jones University, Willie Horton, welfare queens, Philadelphia, Mississippi, and flyers about John McCain's adopted child are tools in the Republican toolkit. The Democrats certainly have a few prominent members who have done bad things in the past on the issue of race, but that isn't really the issue; the issue is whether the Republicans are willing to repudiate offensive and borderline-racist tactics that get them votes that they need to win elections. And bringing up the old chestnut about Byrd is simply an attempt to change the subject.
3.21.2006 1:20pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
One comment about why Kaplan gets what she gets wrong. She may assume that black conservatives are all Republicans because all the black conservatives we see on television are Republicans. That's because the Republicans have an interest in showcasing black conservative Republicans, to show the diversity of the party, while the Democrats have no interest in showing black conservative Democrats, because they'd like to portray the black community as solidly in support of the party's ideals.

So Kaplan just assumed that all black conservatives were like Clarence Thomas and Alan Keyes and Armstrong Williams, when they are not.
3.21.2006 1:23pm
breakdown:
I wonder if this data can be skewed by the fact that some of the people surveyed may be from majority black communities, which vote overwhelmingly democratic. If that's the case, then perhaps those who reported thought of themselves as conservative (or anything other than "liberal") simply b/c their baseline does not accurately reflect the overall American spectrum.

I can relate to this phenomenon.... I live on New York City's upper west side, probably one of the most liberal districts in the country. As compared to my community, I would report as a moderate/liberal, but I assume that as compared to the nation as a whole, I'm a "liberal," I assume.
3.21.2006 1:56pm
Taimyoboi:
"But it is part of a category of Republican non-answers to the charges of race-baiting."

And...

"Thus, confederate flags, Bob Jones University, Willie Horton, welfare queens, Philadelphia, Mississippi, and flyers about John McCain's adopted child are tools in the Republican toolkit."

Dilan Esper, thanks for the demonstration of self-parody. Although, I'm not quite sure which categories of non-accusations a city and state fall into in the Democratic toolkit of leveling racism charges...

I also wasn't aware that the Republican Party owned Bob Jones University or the marketing rights to the confederate flag.

But feel free to draw conclusions about the whole from what you perceive to be credible claims about particulars.

"the issue is whether the Republicans are willing to repudiate offensive and borderline-racist tactics..."

Last I checked, the issue at hand was Kaplan's claims, not which party engaged in racism or race-baiting tactics.
3.21.2006 2:21pm
Randy R. (mail):
Under the Reagan administration, the Justice Dept. wrote an amicus brief to the US Supreme because they wanted Bob Jones University to retain it's non-profit status, even though they willingly violated affirmative action laws and stricktly separated the races.
3.21.2006 2:43pm
LizardBreath (mail):
Taimyoboi-

"Philadelphia, Mississppi" isn't a city and a state, it's a city located in Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in the 60's. Reagan opened his campaign there with a speech endorsing 'states' rights', which in the civil rights context was used as a code word for supporting segregation. This speech and its location were widely understood to be a bid for support from those in the South who opposed the civil rights movement.

Just so you know what's going on.
3.21.2006 2:58pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Dilan Esper wrote:

One comment about why Kaplan gets what she gets wrong. She may assume that black conservatives are all Republicans because all the black conservatives we see on television are Republicans. That's because the Republicans have an interest in showcasing black conservative Republicans, to show the diversity of the party, while the Democrats have no interest in showing black conservative Democrats, because they'd like to portray the black community as solidly in support of the party's ideals.

So Kaplan just assumed that all black conservatives were like Clarence Thomas and Alan Keyes and Armstrong Williams, when they are not.


...

That seems like sound analysis to me, at least to the extent that you are right that Kaplan is talking about black conservatives, but she probably means black Republicans.

[Comment edited after posting]

Jim Lindgren
3.21.2006 3:42pm
Taimyoboi:
The perils of employing sarcasm in the written language...
3.21.2006 3:45pm
Proud to be a liberal :
The Bob Jones case had nothing to do with affirmative action. It was about race discrimination, pure and simple. Bob Jones University prohibited inter-racial dating, claiming that mixing the races violated its religious beliefs. The IRS denied it a tax exemption, as it did a private school that denied admission to African-Americans on the basis of race. The question presented to the court was whether the IRS prohibition on tax exemption for groups that discrminated based on race violated the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty.

The Reagan administration supported the evangelical Christians who wanted to discriminate based on race &still get a tax exemption.
3.21.2006 9:18pm
jgshapiro (mail):
Proud to be a Liberal:

The Bob Jones case actually had little to do with the First Amendment, though that argument seemed to get all of the press. There was another issue in the Bob Jones case, which was whether the IRS had the statutory authority to adopt a prohibition on tax exemption for groups that discrminated based on race. That was actually the main issue, not the constitutional claim.

The IRS had reinterpreted a long-standing federal statute (IRC ยง501c3) to prohibit tax exemption for charitable groups that practiced race discrimination, and the issue was whether it had the authority to do so, or whether this interpretation required a new act of Congress. The amount of discussion by the Court devoted to the regulatory/statutory argument as compared to the constitutional argument shows that the constitutional argument was not taken very seriously by any of the justices.

See e.g., Here at Part II and III and Here.
3.22.2006 1:55pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Some more background on Bob Jones University and the Republicans:

1. One has to appreciate just how out of the ordinary the Reagan Administration's position in favor of the school was. This was an action being prosecuted by the IRS, an arm of the Administration's own executive branch. Traditionally, the Administration defends ALL actions by the executive branch except in those rare instances where the Administration concludes that the action was indefensible. Thus, for instance, the Bush Administration didn't like McCain-Feingold all that much, but Ted Olson gave the statute a spirited defense in the Supreme Court, and his argument was successful; the statute was upheld.

Thus, the Reagan Administration was not only defending the right of colleges to discriminate and still get tax breaks; they were saying that right was so obvious and important that it would justify the refusal to defend the position taken by an arm of the Executive Branch. That seems to me to be a pretty big pander to racist Republican voters.

2. Remember that Republicans had a second, more recent run-in with Bob Jones University. George W. Bush spoke there. Again, the point was to send a signal to the type of voters who support Bob Jones' mission that he was on their side.

Let me make it clear: no elected Democrat would speak at Bob Jones University (except, perhaps, to issue a strong condemnation of the school), and no elected Democrat would have supported Bob Jones University's claim to a tax exemption. And that's a pretty clear difference between the parties that can't be papered over with talk about what Robert Byrd did more than half a century ago.
3.22.2006 2:23pm