Does racism work in U.S. elections?

AuthorLusane, Clarence

For all intents and purposes, the Republican Party has become the party of white America.

In 2012, 88 percent of Mitt Romney's vote came from whites. That trend continued for Republicans in the 2014 elections, where very few Republican candidates won even 10 percent of the black vote. A softer rhetoric on race by some in the party, most notably Senator Rand Paul, continues to be overwhelmed by the GOP's anti-black and anti-Latino policies.

Longtime civil rights advocate Wade Henderson called the 2014 campaign "the most unfair, confusing and discriminatory election landscape in almost fifty years." Despite fierce denial by the right, Republican race politics shaped the election results in at least three ways: dog-whistling and bull-horning about President Obama (and the constituents he ostensibly represents), redistricting, and an explicit strategy to make it harder for people of color to vote.

Progressives need to and can combat all of these attacks.

Obama as Racial Representation

The GOP strategy for six years and counting has been to demonize Obama with appeals to both explicit and subtle racism. Having long solidified among GOP voters the baseless notions that he is not an American (64 percent), is not Christian (51 percent), is a socialist (67 percent), and is certainly black, conservatives and Republicans shifted their rhetoric to now simply link Obama to every problem facing the nation. Obama is the black totem doll representing all that is wrong with America. He embodies the dread expressed by Indianapolis oil tycoon Charlotte Lucas, co-founder of Lucas Oil Products, who posted on Facebookthat she was "sick and tired of minorities running our country."

Thus we have "Obamacare" versus the "Affordable Care Act," two names for the same law, that unsurprisingly have wildly different levels of support among whites, and white conservatives in particular, depending on which term is used. A Fox News poll found that while 22 percent of Republican voters support the Affordable Care Act only 14 percent support Obamacare.

Tapping into fears about Ebola, conservatives began to refer to President Obama as President Obola. Extreme rightwing reactions to the threat of this dreadful disease ranged from wanting to shut down all flights to the United States from Africa to accusations that Muslim terrorists would smuggle in Ebola through undocumented children from Latin America. These ideas were given serious exposure in conservative media.

It wasn't all dog-whistle and wink-wink racial codes. Some conservatives...

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