A New Political Scenario This Year for Black Voters

THERE is no black presidential candidate this election year.

Moreover, poverty and joblessness, always a big issue in the black community, have become a larger concern for many more whites.

These shifts, analysts say, are changing the political scene in 1992 for African-Americans.

"It leaves considerable room not to address race-specific issues," says Linda Williams, associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. "Unemployment, improving schools, and affordable health care are everyone's issues and so it's easier now to address those and not address blacks who suffer disproportionately."

"Objectively it's good, because the kinds of policies people are driven to support now will help black Americans," says Professor Williams.

Those policies particularly high on the black agenda and being talked about by politicians, she says, include an expanded government role in creating jobs, improving public education to be economically competitive internationally, and universal health care.

"But on the subjective level," she adds, "Because one doesn't hear particular references to the poor and minorities, people are feeling left out."

Per capita income for blacks is 59 percent of that of whites, and 32 percent of blacks fall below poverty level versus just 11 percent of whites, according to the National Urban League's annual State of Black America report. The median income for black males in 1990 was about 61 percent of white males' income. And the income of black females stood at approximately 81 percent of that received by white females.

Inasmuch as blacks have traditionally suffered disproportionate economic hardship, they also have fared worse in the current recession than other groups, and are likely to be the last segment of the population to recover income when the economy turns around, the report says.

"If you start with the premise that blacks are hurting more in this recession, and ask how politics would be different because of this: It wouldn't. [The black vote] is going to go to Democratic candidates," says David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political Studies, a black think tank.

For the past 20 years, 90 percent of blacks have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate, and other political analysts agree with Mr. Bositis, seeing no reason that would change this year.

"The question is not so much how they'll vote, but if they'll bother to vote," Williams says.

So far, with the campaigning confined largely to New Hampshire, the issue of race and any serious economic proposals are not yet well-defined, says David Swinton, dean of the business school at Jackson State University and an author of the National Urban League's report.

"In some sense, this is actually the best possible scenario for blacks," Mr. Swinton says.

"If the candidates are seriously looking at addressing economic maladjustments ... it's better if they don't call it 'black issues.' Because if people don't see these as general broad issues, they'll see them as special interests," Swinton says.

He says that "the classical arguments of free trade, market forces, and getting the government off our backs dominating public debate for the last 15 years" won't resonate well with most voters. Instead, he suggests, the policy that will have broad appeal to economically troubled Americans of any race will "be to say we have to keep jobs, and have good jobs for all Americans and not let jobs leave the country. And that there is some public responsibility to do that."

Political rhetoric may be playing to the broad and immediate American need for more jobs, says political analyst William Schneider. But he sees an urban-suburban, black-white split in politicians' agendas for how to accomplish that.

"What cities want is programs. What the suburbs want is prosperity," he says. When politicians get down to the economic nitty-gritty, he says, more government spending (causing higher taxes) to create jobs isn't going to be popular among mainstream voters. And the Democrats, assured of the black vote, will be fighting to win back the white suburban vote that has increasingly gone to the Republicans, he says.

The economy will squelch what appeared to be a nascent Republican vote among blacks, says Williams. During President Bush's first year in office, CBS-New York Times polls consistently measured black approval of the president at around 50 percent. That was unusually high, says Williams, and may have been due to the emerging affluence among blacks under 30.

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