The Black Vote

When African American voters—and the rest of the electorate—go to the polls on Nov. 2, they will not merely engage in the quadrennial ritual of selecting the next president. They will be making the most crucial decision of the year—one that may determine, among other things, their safety, employment status, and financial future.

And the stakes have never been higher. California governor. and former action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger may scoff at what he calls “girlie men” fretting about the economy, but most Americans are gripped by nagging uncertainty. On one hand, an economic environment marked by historically low inflation and interest rates has buoyed the fortunes of well-heeled investors and homeowners. On the other, thousands of displaced workers grapple with unemployment, underemployment, and depleted bank accounts, while legions of small business owners struggle to make a profit in a murky business climate. On top of that, the harsh realities of war and terrorism continue to loom large.

To paraphrase an old maxim, it’s no secret that black Americans get pneumonia when the rest of the nation catches a cold. Simply put, we are most impacted by economic downshifts, changes in the job market, and reversals in federal funding allocations. Issues such as the war in Iraq, jobs, criminal justice, education, and healthcare top the list of our concerns. But the black vote should not be counted out: it can help determine the outcome of this election. In 2000, African Americans constituted 11.6% of those who voted—a powerful bloc in a close race. Reportedly, there are as many as 20 battleground states—places that could swing for either candidate—up for grabs. Some of these states, which include Michigan, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri, have significant black populations.

That’s why it’s important to evaluate your choices. One is George W. Bush, the Republican incumbent who promises to build an “ownership society”—a citizenry unencumbered by government and capable of handling financial needs from homeownership to managing its own health and retirement accounts. After 9-11, Bush proved to be a hawk, willing to take preemptive military action. In fiscal affairs, he’s a supply-sider who, after inheriting a budget surplus from the Clinton administration, pushed through a series of tax cuts that partly contributed to the whopping $521 billion deficit.

The other choice is Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic challenger who seeks to develop a plan “to build a stronger America” by strengthening the “shrinking” middle class, creating new jobs through technology, and providing tax incentives for companies that don’t outsource jobs overseas. The 20-year Washington veteran has gained a reputation as a liberal on social issues and a moderate on economics and foreign affairs.

To help our readers make an informed decision before Election Day, we interviewed voters about their take on what’s at stake as well as provided highlights of the candidates’ platforms. Whether the commentary comes from red-state Republicans or blue-state Democrats, this package offers valuable insight into the direction of the black vote and its potential impact on Election 2004.

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