Herman Cain's other problem: African-Americans
Though his campaign caught fire for a time, many black voters did not embrace Herman Cain because he rejects institutional racism as a major issue. But his candidacy has exposed rifts in the black community.
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These views, however, put him at odds with many in the black community. Moreover, Cain's take on racism hints at why the Republican Party can't make more inroads among blacks, despite the fact that African-Americans would generally appear to be sympathetic to Republican positions on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, say some analysts.
"African-Americans are incredibly rational in terms of their politics" and support for Democrats, says David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think tank that focuses on black political issues.
Many blacks see economic inequality, incarceration rates for black men, and a host of other societal ills as being rooted in racism, he says. "I think most African-Americans see the Herman Cain phenomenon as 'weird white people acting up.' "
African-American support for the Republican Party peaked at 14 percent in 2004 but declined to 10 percent by the 2010 midterm elections, according to the Joint Center. While 96 percent of blacks voted for Mr. Obama in 2008, such overwhelming support suggests that it was more for Obama as the first black president than for his Democratic Party politics, researchers say.
Indeed, in recent years blacks have increasingly abandoned the Democratic Party to register as independents. Some 35 percent of young black voters identify as independents, an eight percentage point increase since the late 1990s. And even though the number of black politicians has risen by 370 percent since the 1960s, the overall economic welfare of blacks has slid during the same period, to the point where the wealth gap between blacks and whites reached a modern record this year, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. This has given rise to conservative, and competitive, black politicians like Cain, Rep. Tim Scott in South Carolina, and Rep. Allen West in Florida, experts say.
"There's always been an independent spirit within the black community, and Herman Cain is expressing that thread," says Omar Ali, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who studies black populism in the New South. "Yes, it's still a minority position, but it does highlight an increasing shift toward independents."
That might not be enough to help Republicans in 2012, even if Cain is their nominee. A recent North Carolina poll shows that only 8 percent of blacks preferred Cain over Obama – a far cry from the 30 percent that some pundits believe Cain could peel from black support for the president.