Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America

By Paul Frymer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Capture inside the Democratic Party, 1965–1996

THE SECOND PERIOD of electoral capture occurred shortly after the victories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. In the national election of 1964, overwhelming numbers of African American voters cast their ballots in favor of the Democratic party candidate, Lyndon Johnson. The Republican party candidate of that year, Barry Goldwater, ran against the legislative centerpiece of the civil rights era, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since that election, black voters have consistently supported Democratic candidates in presidential elections at rates of over 80 to 90 percent. National Republican leaders, meanwhile, have made only sporadic and often halfhearted efforts to court black voters. Just as often, the party has utilized negative racial code words to appeal to swing voters and increase its base of primarily white voters.1

In some important ways, the post-civil rights era differs from the period following Reconstruction. While in the late 1800s opposition to civil rights was based on explicit expressions of genetic racism by a white public,2 opposition to African American interests in the post-civil rights era is more subtle. Instead of openly expressing opposition to blacks, whites today express opposition to policies designed specifically to benefit blacks, such as affirmative action and busing. They defend these views by claiming they are opposed to government intervention or to programs that ostensibly conflict with individualistic values, or they claim that blacks are benefiting “unfairly” from these programs. Whereas in the 1800s, racist ideology often transcended broader leftright political distinctions, since the 1960s the two have subtly blended together.3

1 On the use of racial code words by the Republican party, see Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary Edsall, Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, (New York: Norton, 1991); Donald R. Kinder and Lynn M. Sanders, Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), chaps. 8–9.

2 For just one account of white racial attitudes during this period, see George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817–1914 (Hanover, N.H.: Wesleyan University Press, 1987), particularly chaps. 6–10.

3 For trend analysis of racial attitudes just prior to and after the civil rights movement, see Howard Schuman, Charlotte Steeh, and Lawrence Bobo, Racial Attitudes in America: Capture inside the Democratic Party, 1965–1996.

-87-

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