The failure to appreciate that as many as a third of Black voters take an essentially optimistic view of racial progress in the United States is particularly harmful to conservatives, as this is the universe of voters that could, in theory, be open to the right Republican candidate. Because Republicans are starting from such a low base—John McCain won 4 percent of the Black vote in 2008 and Mitt Romney won 6 percent of the Black vote in 2012—even modest inroads into this constituency could make an enormous difference for the GOP.

To make these inroads, however, Republicans have to dispel the perception that they are hostile to Black progress. In January the Pew Research Center surveyed the views of Blacks and Whites on a variety of questions. It found that while 46 percent of Whites felt that government should do “a lot” to reduce poverty, 78 percent of Black voters felt the same way. Only 8 percent of Black respondents felt that government should do little or nothing to reduce poverty (compared with 17 percent of Whites). Similarly, while 79 percent of Blacks felt that “a lot” more needs to be done to achieve racial equality in the U.S., 12 percent of Blacks believed that somewhat more needs to be done and 8 percent believed that little or nothing needs to be done. There is a large minority of Blacks reporting that the government should do less than “a lot” to reduce poverty and who feel the same way about achieving racial equality, yet Republican candidates are struggling to get close to a double-digit share of the Black vote.