Can black Republicans draw voters to the GOP?

Tim Scott, Republican U.S. Senator from South Carolina (Gage Skidmore)
Tim Scott, Republican U.S. Senator from South Carolina (Gage Skidmore)

Black voters are easily America’s most partisan racial group. The vast majority are registered Democrats or lean Democratic. While 11 percent of black voters say they have conservative leanings, only 3 percent are black Republicans, according to a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center.

GOP leaders are continually trying to draw racial minorities to the party, a strategy that will become increasingly important to its viability as the nation itself becomes more racially and ethnically diverse. A key challenge for the Republican Party, however, is its opposition to programs that benefit people of color — affirmative action, for example, and government-funded social programs. Meanwhile, the GOP is pressing for less federal oversight while many black Americans believe strong federal oversight helps protect their civil rights.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) commissioned a study after the 2012 general election, when President Barack Obama won a second term, beating out Republican challenger Mitt Romney. That study, which was nicknamed the RNC “autopsy report” and is still widely discussed, suggested Republicans do more to engage black voters, partly by building “a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round.”

One way the GOP has tried to attract black voters is by putting black Republicans on the ballot. The RNC also has recruited black men and women for prominent positions, although several top black staffers left the organization in 2016. Republicans also have done outreach efforts with historically black colleges and universities as well as churches in black communities.

But what is the best way to mobilize black voters? Which are most likely to have Republican leanings or support conservative causes? Are black people more likely to choose a black Republican candidate than a white one?

Below, we have gathered a sampling of academic research that explores these questions, as well as other resources that may be helpful to journalists covering this topic.


“Can Republican African Americans Win African American Votes? A Field Experiment”
Niven, David. Journal of Black Studies, April 2017. DOI: 10.1177/0021934717701432.

Abstract: “In the face of its 2012 defeat and looming demographic trends that did not bode well for the party’s future presidential candidates, the Republican National Committee officially declared its intention to recruit more African American candidates for office. But will fielding more African American candidates likely attract more African American votes for Republicans? Here, I employ a field experiment using real candidates and real votes cast in two down-ballot races featuring African American Republican candidates. Among voters who received mailings highlighting both race and party, African American voters responded primarily to party, in the process largely rejecting these two candidates. By contrast, African American voters responded more favorably when they learned the race, but not the party, of these candidates. The results here suggest something of a self-affirming political preference order in which African Americans felt affirmed by voting for a fellow African American, but only when they did not see that candidate as conflicting with a more central aspect of their political identity.”


“Candidate Race, Partisanship, and Political Participation: When Do Black Candidates Increase Black Turnout?”
Fairdosi, Amir Shawn; Rogowski, Jon C. Political Research Quarterly, 2015. DOI: 10.1177/1065912915577819.

Abstract: “A sizable literature in American politics documents increased levels of voter turnout among black citizens when coracial candidates are on the ballot or hold office. However, due to a paucity of black Republican candidates, existing research has been unable to identify whether increased participation occurs irrespective of the candidate’s partisanship. Using data from the 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we find that, while the presence of a black Democratic House candidate was associated with increased black voter turnout, there was no association between black Republican candidates and black turnout. These results are robust to model specification, issues of statistical power, and contextual differences across districts. We report further evidence that black citizens’ perceptions of black candidates’ ideologies and character traits differed substantially based on the candidate’s party. Our results have implications for understanding how citizens engage in politics when salient political identities come into conflict. The results further suggest that Republican efforts to recruit black candidates are unlikely to mobilize black voters.”


“Black Voters, Black Candidates, and Social Issues: Does Party Identification Matter?”
Kidd, Quentin; Diggs, Herman; Farooq, Mehreen; Murray, Megan. Social Science Quarterly, 2007. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2007.00452.x.

Key findings: Black voters with strong ties to the Democratic Party are highly likely to support Democratic candidates. However, black Democrats who are evangelical Christians and supported the invasion of Iraq are likely to vote Republican one-fourth of the time. “Our findings suggest that Republicans cannot expect to attract much black support by simply running black candidates who take conservative positions on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Even when black voters hold similar views on social issues with black Republican candidates, those similarities alone do not appear to cause much cross-over voting.”


“How Black Candidates Affect Voter Turnout”
Washington, Ebonya. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2006. DOI: 10.1162/qjec.121.3.973.

Abstract: “Both Black and White voter turnout increases 2-3 percentage points with each Black Democrat on the ballot. Given the groups’ representations in the population, the White response is numerically greater. Whites of both parties are less likely to vote for their parties’ candidate when s/he is Black. The turnout findings are not explained away by voter, election, or politician characteristics. However, the fact that there is no turnout response to Black Republicans suggests that a perception of Blacks’ ideology may be a factor.”


“Irreplaceable Legislators? Rethinking Minority Representatives in the New Century”
Juenke, Eric Gonzalez; Preuhs, Robert R. American Journal of Political Science, 2012. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2012.00584.x.

Summary: This study looks the ideological differences between white Republican legislators and Republican legislators who are black or Latino as well as differences between white Democratic legislators and their black or Latino counterparts. “The Republican sample reveals that Republican minority members are not significantly different from other Republicans. African Americans and Latinos are, however, significantly more liberal than other Democrats after controlling for all other variables.”


Related resources:

  • The National Black Republican Association’s mission is to “be a resource for the black community on Republican ideals and core values which encourage freedom and prosperity: strong families, faith in God, quality education and equal opportunities for all.”
  • Project 21 is a network of conservative and moderate African Americans.
  • The American Civil Rights Institute, which opposes affirmative action, was founded by Ward Connerly, who is black.
  • Crystal Wright writes the Conservative Black Chick blog.
  • Joshua D. Farrington, a professor of African American and Africana studies at the University of Kentucky, wrote Black Republicans and the Transformation of the GOP.
  • Leah Wright Rigueur, a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, wrote The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power.


Looking for more research on black political candidates? Check out our write-ups on how sex scandals affect black candidates and why minority legislators matter.  


Photo by Gage Skidmore obtained from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.

Last updated: February 28, 2018


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