According to a June Gallup Poll, 87 percent of African-Americans support President Obama. But presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney isn’t surrendering to his anemic poll numbers. Today, he was both booed and applauded during his address to African-American voters at the NAACP convention. But though some of his talking points – like his vow to repeal Obamacare – didn’t sit well with the crowd, his appearance at the forum was a departure from past GOP precedent – and that’s a good thing.
According to USA Today:
“The fact that Romney even addressed the NAACP is noteworthy, given the history of some recent GOP presidential candidates and the NAACP. George W. Bush addressed the organization as a candidate in 2000, but stayed away from NAACP conferences for five years as president.”
Vice President Biden will address the conference tomorrow in place of the president, who declined his invitation. This made Delve wonder – should the president feel so confident in his place with black voters that he can sit out an NAACP speaking engagement? Is sending Biden in his place an affront to the community? And could the disproportionate impact of the economic downturn on African-Americans– the unemployment rate among blacks is 14.4 percent versus 8.2 percent nationally - hurt him and help Romney?
For answers to those questions, we turned to Schwartz Fellow Reniqua Allen, who has written extensively on race and politics.
The president's choice to skip the conference wasn’t a slight, but rather “smart politics and time management,” she said, noting that Biden is well-liked in the black community. “Obama knows that support from this community is solid. He's choosing to spend his time courting a more instable minority population-the Latino vote, whose support is vital to his election. Simply put: Romney had more to gain from the appearance” in terms of how it could boost his support within the community, and serve as a symbol of his commitment.
And even though the president has been criticized for his lack of commitment to the constituency, specifically for inadequately addressing “the unique plight of the black community,” overall he has “pretty consistently engaged” with African-Americans, Allen says. That’s why he’s unlikely to lose ground to Romney in November.
But if African-Americans crave an increase in policies tailored to their distinct struggles - and more engagement from lawmakers - they’d be wise spread their support rather than unifying behind one candidate, Allen argues.
“I wish Mitt Romney had more of a chance in siphoning off some votes in the black community,” she said. “Maybe that would light a fire under folks to start paying attention to the needs of the black voters. “
Black voters, Allen explained, “need specific policies catered to them because of their unique position in this country…It’s time that black Americans start listening to the positions of other candidates and other parties [besides the Democrats]. It works against the community as a whole to unify behind one party.”
Photo credit: REUTERS/Richard Carson