Michael Steele and the GOP

Jan 30, 2009 5:48pm

Michael Steele’s election as chairman of the Republican National Committee puts him in an unusual position: an African-American leading a political party that traditionally has received precious little support from blacks.

Only 4 percent of blacks voted for the GOP candidate, John McCain, in November’s election; 95 percent went for a guy named Obama. And more than personal affinity was at play: Democrats have won at least 83 percent of African-American voters in every presidential election since 1976. Blacks are far and away the party’s most loyal backers.

Indeed 90 percent of McCain’s voters were whites (compared with 61 percent of Barack Obama’s). And beyond the election, national data from our ABC News/Washington Post polls look just the same: On average across 2008, just 4 percent of blacks identified themselves as Republicans, and 90 percent of Republicans were whites.

Nor is this new: Aggregating all our ABC/Post polls since 1981 – looking at more than a generation of political affiliation (and more than 420,000 interviews, mind you) – it's the same: Across this period just 6 percent of blacks have identified themselves as Republicans, and 91 percent of Republicans have been whites. (Among all adults, for comparison, 75 percent are whites.)

Certainly some outreach is in order, given not just these results but also the retreat in Republican affiliation since 2004, as the unpopular Iraq war and mounting disapproval of George W. Bush reversed a generation of gains for the party. It’s been noted that the GOP’s in danger of becoming regionalized – a white, Southern party – and the 2008 election surely pointed that way. White Southerners voted for McCain by 69-30 percent. Whites elsewhere split evenly, 49-49 percent, between McCain and Obama.

Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, addressed that result in his acceptance remarks today: “We are going to win again in the Northeast. We're going to continue to win in the South. We are going to win with a new storm in the Midwest. And we're going to get to the West, we're going to lock it down, and we're going to win there too.”

Big plans for that rarest of political figures, a black Republican, one now chairing his party. But who knows? Big plans sometimes work out. Just ask Mr. Obama.

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