MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Just two weeks to go until the general election, and there is new information about the African-American vote. Also, we'll talk about the so-called Bradley effect. Even if polls show that Senator Obama is in the lead, do polls tend to overstate support for an African-American candidate? We'll talk about that in just a few minutes.
But first, we're going to hear from David Bositis, senior researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, who has some new information about the African-American vote. The Joint Center concluded an opinion survey of African-American adults between September 16th and October 6th. And David Bositis is with us now.
David, the survey says that African-American support for the Democratic Party and Senator Obama will be at a record level in the 2008 election, and black turnout may surpass all existing records. Why is that significant?
Mr. DAVID BOSITIS (Senior Researcher, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies): Because the black vote is going to be an important component in several states: in Florida, in North Carolina, in Virginia, in Ohio, in Missouri, possibly in Indiana. And a strong black turnout in those states could very easily turn those states blue for Barack Obama. Plus, there are several Senate races that are now essentially rated as tossups, including races in Georgia, in North Carolina, and two or three borders states like Kentucky, where a strong black turnout could cause the Republicans to lose those seats.
MARTIN: In contrast, Senator John McCain has the lowest rating ever obtained for a first-time major party nominee. Only 22.8 percent of black respondents have viewed him favorably, 65.1 percent viewed him unfavorably. You also said in the survey that identification with the Republican Party is near record lows. Why is that? Is it excitement about the Democratic ticket or is there something else going on along with that?
Mr. BOSITIS: I think some of it is excitement with Barack Obama's historic candidacy, but I think there's definitely something else at play. First of all, African-Americans have been the single most vocal and solid opposition group to the war in Iraq, even before the war in Iraq started, whereas most of the rest of the country was on board for the first couple of years of the war.
But just as important, I think, there's a question in the survey of asking people how they're doing financially. Are they doing better than a year ago? Are they doing worse than a year ago? In 2000, at the end of Bill Clinton's second term, where African-Americans made tremendous gain in income, 45 percent of black adults said that they were financially better off, and only 10 percent said they were worse off. Go to 2004, when Bush was running for re-election, 17 percent said they were better off, and 28 percent said they were worse off. Now, fast forward to today, only eight percent said they were better off, and 55 percent said they were worse off.
So on the financial score - and the economy is the dominant issue of this election - 62 percent of African-Americans say that the economy is the number one issue. And if you look at how African-Americans feel about their finances, they feel very, very badly.
MARTIN: So it's really a perfect storm. The Democrats have the issues, they have the candidates, and this year just is not going to be a year where the Republican Party can expect any headway at all in the black vote, is what I'm hearing you say.
Mr. BOSITIS: Not only that, Republicans can expect to lose ground, and they had so little ground to lose to begin with. It really takes a lot of effort to lose ground when you don't have much to begin with.
MARTIN: Taking the other side of the question, Senator Obama has almost unanimous support in the black community. According to the survey, he has 90.4 percent of African-Americans viewing him favorably, only 4.7 percent viewing him unfavorably. Now I think it's important to note, if I have this right, that when the Joint Center started polling on the 2008 campaign, do I have this right that Hillary Clinton was the preferred candidate by a slight margin?
Mr. BOSITIS: Yes.
MARTIN: And what changed?
Mr. BOSITIS: I think the biggest thing that changed was Iowa. Hillary Clinton was the preferred candidate but just by a very, very modest amount. Barack Obama had attracted a lot of attention. Young African-Americans - and the African-American population is much younger than the white population - young African-Americans were very much drawn to Barack Obama. But I think a lot of older African-Americans had doubts about a black nominee being able to be elected president and doubts about whether white voters would vote for Barack Obama.
But when Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses, Iowa was a state with a minimal black population, one or two percent. That was the wakeup call for a lot of African-American voters. They took another look at Barack Obama and they liked what they saw.
MARTIN: Finally, though, the report indicates that support for both Clintons remains high in the African-American communities. Senator Clinton is viewed favorably by 86.4 percent of African-Americans surveyed, unfavorably by only 7.8 percent. And former President Clinton was viewed favorably by 85.5 percent of those surveys. Now, it's interesting data because during the campaign there was a commentary about whether the Clintons had damaged their standing among African-Americans because of the way of some of the campaign tactics. What do you make of this number?
Mr. BOSITIS: Well, it's one of two things. Either the commentary was wrong or all is forgiven. So I have to say, I was a little bit surprised because there was a great deal of discussion during the primaries. You know, it was a hard-fought primary campaign. But African-Americans feel strongly favorable towards the Clintons, and there are no problems in terms of what happened during the primary.
MARTIN: David Bositis is a senior researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. He was kind enough to join us by phone from his office in Washington. David, thank you so much.
Mr. BOSITIS: You're welcome.
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