The nearly solid black vote that gave Jimmy Carter a razor-thin victory in 1976 has eroded during the past four years -- perhaps enough to tilt the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan.
Black organizations favor the Democratic incumbent by a wide margin, but a number of polls show he can count on only 80 to 90 percent support from blacks, compared with the 94 percent he received against Republican Gerald Ford.
This slippage of support, especially in key states such as Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York, is the result of both disenchantment over the Carter record on jobs and city aid and active wooing of middle-class blacks by Republicans. John Anderson's independent candidacy also is expected to siphon off 4 to 5 percent of black support.
Ronald Reagan, who hopes to attract at least 10 percent of the black vote, has recently taken his campaign into black communities. In early October he went to a church in Detroit's black ghetto to win endorsement of civil rights leaders Ralph D. Abernathy, former top aid to the late Martin Luther King Jr., and Hosea Williams, a more radical King supporter. Reagan was also endorsed by Mayor Charles Evers of Fayette, Miss., a black Democrat, and by former Republican US Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts.
Yet President Carter has the endorsements of more "heavy hitters" in the black community -- Mayors Richard G. Hatcher of Gary, Ind., and Coleman Young of Detroit; the heads of nine of the 10 major black churches through a "Concerned Clergy for the President;" the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson of Opearation PUSH; the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; the Rev. Martin Luther (Daddy) King; and most of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Rep. Cardiss Collins of Illinois, chairman , who has been very critical of Mr. Carter during the past year.
While the number of blacks voting in presidential elections has been increasing -- 6.3 million in 1968; 7.3 million in 1976 -- the percentage of eligible blacks who vote has decreased -- 57.6 percent in 1968; 48.7 percent in 1976. The black vote is about 9 percent of the national total.
Leaders of efforts to get out the black vote are optimistic this year. "Our sense is that people want to turn out and vote." says Gracia Hillman, coordinator of Operation Big Vote, a national campaign sponsored by the Joint Center for Political Studies in Washington. She says one incentive is the increasing number, about 100 in 16 states this fall, of local black candidates seeking new offices at all levels of government.