Posted on August 12, 2005

Being Liberal Now Means Being African American

Phil Reiff and Jason Alderman, Bay Area Center for Voting Research, Aug. 11

If American liberals had four legs and fur, they would have been put on the Endangered Species List following last year’s Presidential election. Defining who is liberal has become a national sport among politicians, as Democrats frantically run from the moniker, while Republicans hurl the invective blindly at everyone on the other side of the aisle.

New research done by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research (BACVR) reveals who the real liberals in American are and the answer is not the tree-hugging, ponytail wearing ex-hippies you might expect. Instead, the new face of American liberalism is of a decidedly different hue. The nation’s remaining liberals are overwhelming African Americans.

The BACVR study that ranks the political ideology of every major city in the country shows that cities with large black populations dominate the list of liberal communities. The research finds that Detroit is the most liberal city in the United States and has one of the highest concentrations of African American residents of any major city. Over 81% of the population in Detroit is African American, compared to the national average of 12.3%. In fact, the average percentage of African American residents in the 25 most liberal cities in the country is 40.3%, more than three times the national rate.

The list of America’s most liberal cities reads like a who’s who of prominent African American communities. Gary, Washington D.C., Newark, Flint, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Birmingham have long had prominent black populations. While most black voters have consistently supported Democrats since the 1960s, it is the white liberals that have slowly withered away over the decades, leaving African Americans as the sole standard bearers for the left.

Despite being the core of America’s liberal base, a major split exists between who the nation’s liberals are and who leads them politically. White politicians still control the levers of power within the Democratic Party, and black faces are rare around the decision making tables of America’s liberal advocacy groups.

While there are some noteworthy pockets of liberals who are not African American, these places end up being the exceptions. College towns like Berkeley and Cambridge have modest black populations, but remain bastions of upper middle-class, white, intellectual liberalism. These liberal communities, however, are more reminiscent of penguins clustering together around a shrinking iceberg, than of a vibrant growing political movement.

Further reinforcing this racial and ideological divide is BACVR research which shows that the most conservative city in America is the ultra white community of Provo, Utah, where less than 1% of the population is black.

Political pundits have noted the highly polarized nature of the American electorate, postulating that religion, age, education, wealth, and even the love of car racing are at the heart of the schism between liberals and conservatives. While these experts have identified some of the symptoms of our national rift, they have missed the root cause.

BACVR’s research gives us the real answer, disheartening as it may be. The great political divide in America today is not red vs. blue, north vs. south, costal vs. interior, or even rich vs. poor — it is now clearly black vs. white.

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Phil Reiff and Jason Alderman are directors at the Bay Area Center for Voting Research, a nonpartisan think tank based in Berkeley. BACVR’s web site is

Contact information: Jason Alderman, 510-528-0110, [email protected] Photos are available and at