The Path of Righteousness

African-American voters are surprisingly conservative-and very religious

BY: Steven Waldman


Reprinted with permission from Slate


The focus on Iowa and New Hampshire has diverted our attention from a factor that's about to become hugely important: the African-American vote. Half of the crucial South Carolina voters are expected to be black, and African-American numbers similarly dominate in other Southern states.

Al Sharpton will surely get some of these ballots, but he doesn't have nearly the support Jesse Jackson did during his campaigns, and none of the white candidates seem to have taken a decisive lead. For the first time in years, no candidate can be said to have cornered the black vote.

Now is the time for shrewd Democratic candidates to start lacing the speeches with Bible references. Before you throw things at the computer-I know it didn't exactly help Howard Dean to talk about religion-let me explain. Politically, the first burst of candidate God-talk (and punditry) seemed to assume that talking about religion is only about reaching out to the center in the general election.

But these guys have to win the nomination first, and the one group for whom faith and morality have historically been crucial is African-Americans. Candidates who think they can win the black vote by trumpeting affirmative action missed a lesson from the Clinton presidency. Part of his appeal was his use of biblical language and metaphors-and his understanding that African-American voters, especially in the South, are quite conservative on cultural issues.

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