Ethnopolitics Ethnic and Racial Implications of the 2000 Election - Part I

By Samuel Francis
Volume 11, Number 3 (Spring 2001)
Issue theme: "George W. Bush, last Republican president? And does it matter?"

In a controversial article in National Review in 1997, immigration expert Peter Brimelow and Ed Rubenstein predicted that the Republican Party was facing imminent political catastrophe due to the continuing tide of immigrants into the country and into the Democratic Party. Acknowledging that "Hispanics do indeed move rightward the longer they remain in America," the authors also contended that "This effect is canceled out by newly arrived immigrants who overwhelmingly vote Democratic. Hence, directly because of immigration the GOP has never approached a majority of the Hispanic vote. And this shows no sign of changing any time soon."

Even if the Republicans could maintain their 1988 level of support from each ethnic group in the American electorate (and they failed to do so in 1996), "They have at most two presidential cycles left. Then they go inexorably into minority status, beginning in 2008."

At first glance the results of the 2000 presidential election would seem to prove the Brimelow-Rubenstein thesis wrong. George W. Bush not only won the presidential election but did so after making concerted appeals to both black and Hispanic voters who have traditionally supported the Democrats. Bush is himself fluent in Spanish and used his language skills as well as those of his brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida and his Hispanic family, to campaign in Hispanic areas. As governor of Texas, George W. Bush had won strong support from Hispanic voters in that state in his own 1998 re-election campaign, and one of his attractions to Republicans in 2000 was his supposed ability to cut into the habitually Democratic Hispanic bloc.

Unfortunately, upon a closer examination of the returns in the 2000 election, nothing really contradicts the Brimelow-Rubenstein thesis of 1997, and much appears to support it. Moreover, despite intensive rhetoric from both political parties about "racial reconciliation," the advantages of "diversity" that mass immigration supposedly brings, and the "end of racism," the truth appears to be that racial and ethnic solidarity is stronger than ever and will continue to shape American politics well into the future. The implication of these facts is clear: Immigration (along with an intensification of African-American racial solidarity in political behavior) has not served to unite the nation but to fragment it along ethnic and racial lines and to push the political spectrum toward the political left.

Exit polls from the Voter News Service (VNS) conducted on election day (Nov. 7), 2000 reveal the ethnic and racial patterns of the vote. Perhaps the most striking ethnic pattern to emerge from the election is the overwhelming support for Democratic candidate Vice President Al Gore from black voters. VNS exit polls show that black voters, making up some 10 percent of the national electorate, supported Gore by 90 percent. While black male voters supported Gore by 85 percent, the Democratic candidate's support among black female voters was even larger - a huge 94 percent.

Nationally, about 19 percent - nearly one in five - of Gore's votes came from black voters. The level of black support for the Republican presidential candidate, however, was strikingly low; only 8 percent of black voters cast their ballots for George W. Bush. Black male voters went for Bush by 12 percent, but black female voters supported him by only 6 percent. Black support for the GOP ticket in 2000 was lower than in any other presidential election year since 1964, when Republican nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater, who had opposed civil rights legislation in the Senate, won only 6 percent of the black vote. By contrast, Ronald Reagan in 1984 won 9 percent of the black vote.

"The level of Hispanic support for the Republican ticket is important because of its implications for the immigration policies that the GOP supports." Yet, as black conservative commentator Armstrong Williams wrote after the election, "Gov. Bush pursued African-American connections with more avidity than any Republican candidate of recent memory. He studded his campaign trail with stops at inner-city schools, churches, welfare offices, and black communities. He filled his commercials with minority faces in an attempt to tell minority voters they were part of his party. He prominently kissed a black baby and could often be seen mingling with Hispanics." Why then did Bush not win more black votes?

One of the main reasons seems to be that his Democratic opponents and their supporters, the NAACP, mounted a concerted campaign to depict Bush as racially insensitive and an opponent of black political goals. Gore himself repeatedly denounced Bush's campaign pledge to appoint "strict constructionist" judges as a covert commitment to restore segregation and Jim Crow laws. Matthew Rees of the Weekly Standard noted a television ad sponsored by the NAACP that used the voice of the daughter of black murder victim James Byrd Jr., slain in Texas in 1998 by whites for apparently racial reasons, that "all but blamed Bush for her father's death at the hands of white racists." This and similar NAACP-sponsored ads on TV and radio accused Bush of indifference to "hate crimes," opposing new hate crimes legislation for Texas in the wake of the Byrd killing, and opposing federal legislation against "racial profiling"; most of these ads strongly insinuated that Bush's positions were driven by racial bigotry. The NAACP in 2000 spent some $12 million through its National Voters Fund in a campaign to register black voters and get them to the polls.

Yet, while pro-Democratic ads nakedly appealed to racial solidarity in a negative way, the kind of appeals to black voters sponsored by Republicans were no less racial in a positive way. Filling TV ads with minority faces and kissing black babies are no less appeals to win votes on the basis of race than insinuating that an opponent is a racial bigot.

The black support for Gore was aided also by a sizeable black voter turnout on election day in critical swing states. While the national level of black voter turnout remained about the same in 2000 as in 1996 (about 10 percent), "black turnout increased more dramatically in states targeted by the NAACP, labor unions, and the Democratic Party," the Washington Post reported. The Wall Street Journal reported that in Florida, "[Black] turnout surged by 50 percent from four years ago, giving blacks clout beyond their share of the voting-age population here," and DeWayne Wickham in USA Today attributed the forced vote recount in Florida to the massive black support for Gore (93 percent) in that state. Some 29 percent of Gore's votes in Florida came from black voters. Political scientist David Bositis told the Journal that "Black-voter turnout appears to be a significant factor this year. In Michigan, Delaware, Florida, and Pennsylvania, black-voter turnout was absolutely critical" to Gore's final vote counts. In Missouri, the black share of the total vote grew from 5 percent in 1996 to 12 percent last year, helping to defeat incumbent Republican Sen. John Ashcroft and elect the deceased Gov. Mel Carnahan to the U.S. Senate. In Tennessee, black turnout increased from 13 percent in 1996 to 18 percent in 2000.

If black voter support for Gore was overwhelming, so too was Hispanic support, though at lower levels. While black voters went for Gore by 90 percent, Hispanic voters, who make up some 7 percent of the electorate nationally, supported the Democrat by 67 percent - a level that is usually considered a landslide. Hispanic voters went for George W. Bush by only 31 percent, though Republican propagandists were quick to boast that this was a significant gain for their party over the miserably low 21 percent of the national Hispanic vote won by Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1996.

The level of Hispanic support for the Republican ticket is important because of its implications for the immigration policies that the GOP supports. In 1994, California Gov. Pete Wilson won re-election (and indeed political resurrection) by endorsing the state's ballot initiative, Proposition 187, which terminated and prohibited all publicly funded services for illegal aliens. Although actually a budget proposal, Prop. 187 was widely viewed as an immigration measure and attracted both enemies and supporters because of that interpretation. The measure passed by some 65 percent and served for a while to place immigration issues on the national political agenda.

But because of Bob Dole's poor showing among Hispanics in 1996, supporters of liberal immigration policies such as Linda Chavez and Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal argued that Republican support for Prop. 187 and subsequent restrictions on immigration had only served to alienate the growing Hispanic vote and that only by abandoning immigration restriction and courting Hispanic voters could Republicans expect to win in the future. In the years between 1996 and 2000, their advice was largely adopted by the Republican Party at the national level and in many states, including California. The Bush campaign in 2000 sought to attract Hispanic voters just as much as it sought to win black voters. It was only marginally more successful in doing so.

Indeed, a state-by-state analysis of the Hispanic vote for the GOP ticket in 2000 conducted by United Press International (UPI) reporter Steven Sailer soon after the election shows very little improvement in the Republican showing due to Bush's personal appeals, strategy, or immigration policies. In California, for example, which has the largest number of Hispanic voters of any state and where Hispanics constitute 13.4 percent of the state electorate, Bush lost the Hispanic vote to Gore by an overwhelmingly larger margin than he lost it nationally - 28 percent to Gore's 67 percent (the Orange County Register a week after the election reported that Bush won only 21 percent of the state's Hispanics). In 1996, according to the Almanac of American Politics, 2000, Bob Dole won only 20 percent of the Hispanic vote in California to Bill Clinton's 71 percent, so Bush's showing was not a significant gain.

Indeed, the whole argument that Republican and conservative support for Prop.187 and immigration control generally alienated Hispanic voters from the GOP is open to question. In the first place, while strong Republican candidates like Nixon and Reagan could win 30 percent to 35 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally, weaker candidates such as Gerald Ford in 1976 and George H. W. Bush in 1992 were able to win only smaller shares - and this was well before Prop.187 came along. Ford in 1976 won only 24 percent and Bush in 1992 won only 25 percent of the national Hispanic vote. Dole's 21 percent in 1996 (and 20 percent in California) is consistent with the performance of a weak Republican candidate among Hispanic voters. Moreover, Dole himself publicly repudiated the Republican Party's platform plank calling for immigration control (drafted by Pat Buchanan forces at the GOP convention) and chose as his running mate the militantly pro-immigration neo-conservative Jack Kemp, who had actively opposed Proposition 187 in 1994. Dole himself had no visible record on immigration issues. Whatever Pete Wilson and California Republicans might have said or done to alienate Hispanic voters in 1994 did not apply to Dole and Kemp in 1996 (or to low Hispanic support for George W. Bush outside of California in 2000). In any case, 23 percent of Hispanic voters in California voted for Prop. 187, suggesting that about a quarter of the Hispanic vote in the state is essentially conservative and Republican and is what Republican candidates should normally expect to receive in that state.

Bush's gain in Hispanic votes in 2000 over Dole in 1996 was therefore not due to any significantly greater success among California Hispanics than Dole. The same is true in two other major regions of concentrated Hispanic voting power, New York and Texas. In the former, which contains the third largest concentration of Hispanic voters (8.2 percent of the state electorate) in the nation, Bush lost Hispanic support even more dramatically, carrying only 18 percent of the state's Hispanic (largely Puerto Rican) voters to Gore's 80 percent. (Hillary Clinton in her successful race for the U.S. Senate seat from New "Throughout the campaign Bush repeatedly expressed support for more immigration from Latin America, praised its results, and distanced himself from immigration restriction and control."York won 85 percent of Hispanic votes.) In Texas, Bush's home state where he had (according to pro-Republican propaganda) carried a majority of Hispanic voters in his re-election campaign in 1998 (the real figure was only 39 percent), Bush did better but still failed to win a majority of Hispanic voters. Texas contains the nation's second largest concentration of Hispanic voters (19.6 percent), and Bush won only 42 percent of them - admittedly a gain over his 1998 performance and considerably better than most Texas Republicans, but still considerably less than the Hispanic majority of 54 percent carried by Gore.

Only in Florida, where Hispanics constitute 11.9 percent of the state electorate and make up the nation's fourth largest concentration of Hispanic voters, was Bush able to win a slim majority of 50 percent to Gore's 48 percent. It must be remembered that Bush's brother Jeb Bush is the governor of Florida, that his wife and children are visibly Hispanic, and that they campaigned strongly for Bush in the state.

But the Florida Hispanic vote is largely Cuban in extraction, and Cuban voters have historically voted Republican. Democratic presidential candidates have traditionally received only 13 percent to 15 percent of the Florida Cuban vote, though in 1996 Bill Clinton actually won 27 percent of the Cubans. In the post-Cold War political environment, the anti-Castro sentiment that drove Cubans into GOP ranks may be dwindling as a major motive of voting behavior.

Nevertheless, the major reason for Bush's win among Hispanics in Florida last year, in most experts' views, was the Clinton administration's alienation of the Cuban constituency by its support for returning Elian Gonzalez to Cuba earlier in the year. As Fox News' Malcolm Balfour reported, one local voter of Cuban background told him a few days after the vote, "I know hundreds of people who registered to vote just because of that raid on Elian's relatives' home. Last time, I voted for the Democrat, Bill Clinton, but no way would I vote Democrat this time around. That was a Democratic conspiracy to carry out an illegal raid just when the parties were reaching an agreement. The Democratic Party violated the civil rights of Cuban-Americans everywhere."

Two days before the election, the St. Petersburg Times reported that "as Election Day nears Cuban-American exiles are getting ready to exact their revenge [for Clinton's policy toward the Gonzalez boy]. Al Gore seems set to pay the price for the Clinton administration's efforts to let the boy go back to Cuba with his dad," even though Gore himself expressed disagreement with the administration's policy.

Bush also did poorly among Hispanic voters in Western and Southwestern states. In Arizona, where Hispanics are 13.6 percent of the electorate, Gore won Hispanics by 65 percent to Bush's 33 percent. In New Mexico, where more than one-third (34.9 percent) of the electorate is Hispanic, Gore won 66 percent among Hispanics to Bush's 32 percent. In Colorado, where Hispanics compose 8 percent of the electorate, Hispanics voted for Gore 68 percent over Bush, 25 percent.

Yet throughout the campaign, Bush repeatedly expressed support for more immigration from Latin America, praised its results, and distanced himself from immigration restriction and control. Thus, in an interview with the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette on 6 January 2000, Bush said, "We ought to increase legal immigration for our country's advantage. The high-tech world we are now dominating is dependent on educated folks, but we're short...of workers." Last August, Bush described his view of the effects of immigration on American society in these glowing terms in a speech to a Hispanic audience in Miami:

America has one national creed, but many accents. We are now one of the largest Spanish-speaking nations in the world. We're a major source of Latin music, journalism and culture.

Just go to Miami, or San Antonio, Los Angeles, Chicago or West New York, New Jersey...and close your eyes and listen. You could just as easily be in Santo Domingo or Santiago, or San Miguel de Allende.

For years our nation has debated this change - some have praised it and others have resented it. By nominating me, my party has made a choice to welcome the new America.

"The conclusion is unavoidable: Bush's elaborate appeals to Hispanics on the basis of abandoning immigration restriction and courting Hispanics at the GOP convention and in the campaign

was a failure." Bush often campaigned in Spanish and made heavy use of his half-Mexican nephew, George P. Bush, in his campaign appeals to Hispanic voters. Bush's supporters in the conservative press such as the Washington Times' Donald Lambro confidently prophesied his capture of a majority of Hispanic voters. Thus, on 20 December 1999, Lambro wrote in the Times that "George W. Bush is winning support from a majority of Hispanic voters" and cited "Hispanic officials and grass-roots activists" who said Bush's support among Hispanics was "the result of Mr. Bush's efforts to reach out to Hispanics with a message of inclusiveness and with tax-cut proposals that appeal to business owners and families with children." Of course, as many critics of Bush's approach to Hispanics predicted, Hispanic ethnic loyalties in the end proved far more powerful than tax-cuts as motivations for voting behavior.

The conclusion is unavoidable: Bush's elaborate appeals to Hispanics on the basis of abandoning immigration restriction and courting Hispanics at the GOP convention and in the campaign was a failure. He gained Hispanic votes at all only because of his own connections with Hispanic voters in his home state of Texas and because of blunders by the Democrats among Hispanics in Florida.

Indeed, Hispanic solidarity with the Democrats should not be surprising. As a report in the Boston Globe pointed out shortly before the election, "More than 1.7 million resident aliens have become U.S. citizens in the past two years, most of them with an incentive to vote and a lopsided preference for the Democratic Party." The story quoted one California Democratic activist as saying, "Both parties show up at swearing-in ceremonies to try to register voters. There is a Democratic table and a Republican table. Ours has a lot of business. Theirs is like the Maytag repairman." In January 2001, the London Financial Times, reporting on the transformation of California state politics by the Hispanic presence there, noted that the demographic shift in the state is "moulding the foundations of a one-party state" for the Democrats. "Fresh data," the Financial Times reported, "show a continuing shift of Latin and Asian voters into the Democrat camp." The prospects for the Republicans in the state are thus no better in the future than they have been in the past.

Similar solidarity among other ethnic groups was also apparent during the 2000 election, with Jews voting 79 percent for the Gore-Lieberman ticket (Jewish voters traditionally cast about a third of their support to the Republican nominee, but in 1992, 1996, and last year's elections the Republican candidates won only 11 percent, 16 percent, and 19 percent of the Jewish vote respectively). Similarly, Asian voters went for Gore by a strong (though not overwhelming) 54 percent; in 1992, 55 percent of Asian voters supported George H. W. Bush and in 1996 48 percent supported Dole and only 44 percent Clinton. These figures show a steady trend among Asian voters toward the political left during the last decade. Reportedly, about 70 percent of American Indians and about 60 percent of Arab-Americans also voted for Gore last year.

The only ethnic group that can be said to have supported the Republicans is whites, though by no means as solidly as most non-white blocs support the Democrats. In 2000, white men, who compose 39 percent of the electorate, voted for George W. Bush over Al Gore by 60 percent to 35 percent. White women, who make up 43 percent of the electorate, were much more evenly split, with 49 percent voting for Bush and 48 percent voting for Gore. White voters in general, who compose 82 percent of the electorate, voted for Bush over Gore by 54 percent to 42 percent. Table 1 shows the historic pattern of white voting since 1972.Table 1. Voting by Whites, 1972-2000

( * indicates winner)

Year Republican Democrat Third Party

1972 Nixon* 67% McGovern 31%

1976 Ford 52% Carter* 47%

1980 Reagan* 56% Carter 36% Anderson 7%

1984 Reagan* 64% Mondale 35%

1988 G.H.W.Bush* 59% Dukakis 40%

1992 G.H.W.Bush 40% Clinton* 39% Perot 20%

1996 Dole 46% Clinton* 43% Perot 9%

2000 G.W.Bush* 54% Gore 42% Nader 3%

The table shows that while a majority of white voters usually vote for the Republican candidate, only twice in the eight presidential elections since 1972 - in that year and in 1984 - have they voted together by more than 60 percent and only four times have more than 55 percent of whites voted together for a single candidate. Compare this level of bloc voting to that of blacks (always 80-90 percent) or Hispanics (always 60-75 percent), and it is clear that of the three major racial/ethnic groups in the U.S., whites vote less as a bloc than the two others.

It will also be noticed that the percentage of whites who support the Democrats does not change significantly from year to year. Although George W. Bush won a strong majority of 54 percent of white voters last year, Gore did better than most Democratic candidates in the recent past by winning 42 percent. The 42-43 percent of white votes that Gore and Clinton won in 1996 and 2000 respectively is more than any Democratic presidential candidate has won since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Correspondingly, Bush's 54 percent majority last year, while better than what Bob Dole and Bush's father won in their races in the 90s, is a distinct decline from the nearly 60 percent average won by Republican nominees in the 1970s and 80s.

One major reason for the improvement of the Democratic ticket in winning white votes and the decline in white votes for the Republican ticket in 2000 is the change in the political strategies of the two parties in recent years. The Republicans have deliberately neglected their natural political base among white voters in a fruitless pursuit of non-white voters, while the Democrats have not hesitated to appeal to at least key sectors of the white vote even as they also appealed to non-white and anti-white racial anxieties to mobilize non-white support.

Recent Republican strategy reflects a deliberate decision on the part of party leaders to abandon both the issues and the strategy - and presumably the constituencies that the strategy won - that brought landslide victories to such Republican leaders as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in the past. Recent Republican strategy also reflects the growing belief that winning non-whites votes is essential to the Republican future. Whereas strong Republican candidates like Nixon and Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s relied on what came to be known as the "Southern strategy" to win high levels of support among white voters, the new Republicans of the 1990s explicitly rejected and abandoned that strategy.

Thus, GOP pollster Lance Tarrance told the Washington Times in January 2000, "We have now moved from the Southern strategy we pursued for the last three decades, since Richard Nixon, to a Hispanic strategy for the next three decades. The maturing of the Hispanic vote is in the very states that have allowed the Republican Party to develop its first majority in the last half century."

Similarly, Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee, told the Times, "This party is going after the growing Hispanic vote with TV ads, Hispanic candidate recruitment attempts, campaigns conducted by Spanish-speaking Republicans in Latino communities and an all-out effort to persuade newly naturalized citizens of Hispanic origin to join the Republican Party." In 1999, Republican state Sen. Jim Brulte of California explicitly vowed that he would no longer support financial contributions to white, male candidates. "My leadership PAC will give no more money to Anglo males in Republican primaries," Sen. Brulte said. "Every dollar I can raise is going to nominate Latinos and Asian Americans and women. We have to expand our outreach."

In August 2000, the Washington Post cited Karl Rove, Bush's top political strategist, as dismissing the Southern strategy as an "old paradigm" that "past GOP candidates had employed in a calculated bid to polarize the electorate and put together a predominantly white majority. People are more attracted today by a positive agenda than by wedge issues," Rove told the Post. Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition and now a Republican political consultant, also told the Post, "This is a very different party from the party that sits down on Labor Day and cedes the black vote and cedes the Hispanic vote, and tries to drive its percentage of the white vote over 70 percent to win an election." As indicated earlier, George W. Bush himself reflected this new strategy in his own campaign rhetoric and positions on immigration.

But the actual result of this new strategy is evident from the exit polls of the 2000 election. The strategy failed to attract significant numbers of non-white voters; it failed miserably to win black votes and won only enough Hispanic votes to raise Hispanic support to not-quite the traditional level of Hispanic support for the Republican ticket. More significantly, it also failed to attract the large numbers of white voters who are the natural base of the party and who remain essential for the kind of clear-cut, landslide electoral victories won by Nixon and Reagan. Bush was able to win a small majority of white voters, but without the kind of explicit appeals to them that Nixon and Reagan made, he and his party are unable to win larger majorities. Experts like Reed and Rove are entirely correct that today's GOP is a different party from the old one of Nixon and Reagan. The old party could win landslide victories through the Southern strategy and appeals to white voters. The new party built by Reed, Rove, and Bush can barely win elections at all and managed to lose the popular vote to its opponent. (Bush not only lost the popular vote to Gore, and certainly would have lost the electoral vote as well had Ralph Nader not run as a third-party candidate of the left and taken votes from Gore.) (Continued in Part II)

About the author

Samuel Francis, Ph.D. is a nationally-syndicated columnist. His most recent book, Revolution from the Middle, is available from The Social Contract Press.