In response to the observation that self-identified political ideology is relatively unimportant in explaining black electoral behavior, tcjfs pointed to a paper suggesting that most blacks don’t know what the labels “liberal” or “conservative” mean in an American political context. As a consequence, the political identity blacks assign themselves is random. They are reliably partisan, overwhelmingly self-identifying as Democrat rather than Republican, but they don’t know that liberal tends to pair with Democrat and conservative with Republican.
It sounds plausible and likely has some explanatory power. In one of my favorite early posts found that people who identify as conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans tend to be the least intelligent people of all. Not only are liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans much smarter than them, but even moderates and independents are. Given that blacks are the least intelligent racial group in the US, it’s not particularly surprising that they’d be the most likely to stumble randomly into one of those dumb categories.
On the other hand, stripping the reliable partisan affiliation from the equation to look exclusively at political orientation, there are real differences between liberal, moderate, and conservative blacks. The following graph shows percentages of whites and blacks who support abortion for “any reason” and who support same-sex marriage, by self-identified political orientation:
On these hot-button social issues, the views of conservative whites and conservative blacks are virtually identical. Moderate and liberal whites are more progressive than their black putative ideological counterparts, but the black trends flow in the same direction as the white trends do. And even though black liberals express more moderate positions on these social issues than white liberals do, black liberals are more likely to vote Democrat than even white liberals are.
In a previous post I looked at how blacks with specifically stated socially conservative positions voted in 2012 and found that they voted overwhelmingly for Obama over Romney. While it’s conceivable that blacks don’t know the difference between liberal and conservative, they do know what marijuana and welfare are, yet even when they shared Romney’s rather than Obama’s stated views on these things, they still overwhelmingly voted for Obama.
GSS variables used: POLVIEWS(1-3)(4)(5-7), RACECEN1(1)(2), ABANY, MARHOMO(1-2,4-5)