FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

For decades, most African-American voters have been stalwart democratic voters, a factor that sometimes swings presidential races. For example, Bill Clinton won in 1992 with fewer votes from white Americans than George Herbert Walker Bush, but Clinton had most of the African-American votes.

What about the presidential primaries? On the Democratic side, one person has usually swept most of the African-American vote, but 2008 is shaping up to be a bit different with a real tussle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Yesterday, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released a survey looking at likely black voters in the primaries. David Bositis directed the survey. He's the senior policy analyst for the Joint Center. He's here now to tell us what he found.

Hey, David, how are you doing?

Mr. DAVID BOSITIS (Senior Political Analyst, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies): I'm fine. How are you doing?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. So tell us a little bit about how the African-American vote interacts with the Democratic nominee in presidential races?

Mr. BOSITIS: For most of the past 40 years that the candidate who most black voters coalesced around was the candidate who ended up winning the Democratic nomination. The one clear exception to that was in 1988 when Jesse Jackson was the candidate of black voters and Michael Dukakis got the Democratic nomination.

CHIDEYA: So this time around, what do you see shaping up from this survey?

Mr. BOSITIS: Well, the vast majority of African-Americans, really only looking at the Democratic contests, there's very little interest in the Republican contests. And among the Democrats, all of the attention and enthusiasm of black voters is being showered on two candidates - both senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

CHIDEYA: Now, we're going to talk a little bit later in the show about the Reverend Jesse Jackson saying that John Edwards actually has a social justice agenda or an agenda that jives with African-Americans, but it sounds like you're saying that Edwards is not a player in the race, at least as far as most African-Americans are concerned.

Mr. BOSITIS: No, I don't see Edwards being player. He has about a 2-to-1 favorable rating among African-Americans, but on the top issues that African-Americans are concerned about, they're looking at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

CHIDEYA: Back it up for me. Four years ago and eight years ago, you had situations where the elections were very controversial around what was fair, were all the votes counted. How have those controversies affected people's willingness to vote, in the African-American community specifically, you think?

Mr. BOSITIS: I think that there were people at that time who were concerned that it might turn people off from voting or discourage people in some way from voting. But I think the enthusiasm and the sort of righteous indignation took over, and there were was a very, very healthy black vote in 2004 mainly directed against President Bush. And this time around, probably for the first time ever in terms of the choices that are available, there's real enthusiasm on the part of African-Americans.

CHIDEYA: What role did the primaries play? And what I mean by that is in some race, certainly not the presidential race, the primary is the election. If you're in a overwhelmingly Republican district or an overwhelmingly Democratic district, whoever wins that party's primary usually is going to go on to win. What role does the primary race play in an election like this where you have no incumbent, and what role do African-American voters play in that primary?

Mr. BOSITIS: Well the primaries sort through all the factions in the party, and the Democratic and Republican parties have many different factions. The Democrats have labor, women's groups, African-American groups. There are high educated, high-tech people who have their own factions, conservatives have their own factions, and they sort of fight it out in the primaries to see which candidate can bring enough of those disparate groups together to get the majority of the delegates in this - in 2008 - it will be in Denver to get the Democratic nomination.

African-Americans are especially important in several states, most of the Southern states, and in terms of the early voting states in South Carolina where about half of all the Democratic primary voters will be African-American. But that's also true in Georgia, in Louisiana, more than the majority in Mississippi, and close to a majority in states like Maryland and 40 percent or so in states like Virginia.

CHIDEYA: What about Iraq? Your poll shows that African-Americans are looking at the war as a top voting issue. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton might be considered the most hawkish, so she's still getting the most support. Is that unusual?

Mr. BOSITIS: Well, when asked specifically about which one of the candidates would be more effective in dealing with Iraq, it actually is the issue where Hillary Clinton's edge is smallest over Senator Barack Obama, which is about 10 points.

But African-Americans have been against the war since the very beginning. They didn't support the war being started. They were against the war even at the time of mission accomplished, and they've only become more and more against the war as time has gone on. So the Iraq war is a big issue to African-Americans. They were right from the beginning, and they're insistent that, you know, what they believe is right is going to be a dominant position within the Democratic Party.

CHIDEYA: Well, David, thanks for your time.

Mr. BOSITIS: You're welcome.

CHIDEYA: David Bositis is senior policy analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and he joined us from our NPR studios in Washington, D.C.

Yesterday, the Joint Center released a survey of likely African-American voters in the presidential primaries.

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