Abigail Thernstrom & Stephan Thernstrom: Racial Gerrymandering Is Unnecessary

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Ms. Thernstrom is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Mr. Thernstrom is professor of history at Harvard University. They are the co-authors of "America in Black and White: One Nation Indivisible" (Simon & Schuster, 1997).]

The conventional wisdom among voting-rights advocates and political scientists has been that whites will not vote for black candidates in significant numbers. Hence the need for federal protection in the form of race-based districts that create safe black constituencies where black candidates are sure to win.

But the myth of racist white voters was destroyed by this year's presidential election.

Although six out of 10 votes cast for Barack Obama came from whites, he did not win an overall majority of white votes -- he lost among this group 43%-55%. But no Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 has won the majority of whites. The reason is simple: Just as African-Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately Democrats, whites are now disproportionately Republicans.

Remember Mr. Obama's weak performance with working-class white voters during the primaries? Many speculated at the time, and right up to Nov. 4, that those voters who pulled the lever for Hillary Clinton would defect to John McCain.

Not so. Mr. Obama's 43% share of the white vote in the general election was actually a tad larger than that of John Kerry in 2004 (41%) or Al Gore in 2000 (42%).

So what happened to all those "racists" or "rednecks" that John Murtha spoke of so recently? If there had been that many of them, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia and Florida would have gone the other way, and we would have a President-elect McCain today. Racism is the Sherlock Holmes dog that did not bark in the night....

Black candidates can win in multi-ethnic and even majority-white districts with color-blind voting. Mr. Obama should make it a priority to give more aspiring black politicians the opportunity to stand before white (and Latino and Asian and other ethnic) voters. He won, so can they.

American voters have turned a racial corner. The law should follow in their footsteps.

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