"I wishLord, how I wishMartin were alive today," said John Lewis, executive director of the Atlanta-based Voter Education Project. "He would be very, very happy. Through it all, the lunch-counter sit-ins, the bus strike, the marches and everything, the bottom line was voting."
Martin Luther King Jr. would indeed have been pleased if he had seen how the bottom line in 1976 bulged with black votes. In close races in state after state, North and South, they provided Jimmy Carter with his victory margin.
Poor Showing. When contests are so tight, of course, any number of factors can be said to have tipped the balance in favor of the winnerthe good weather that brought out large numbers of Democrats, the latest discouraging economic indicators, reservations about Vice Presidential Candidate Robert Dole, the allegations raised against Gerald Ford and dismissed late in the campaign. In 23 states, including all the big ten except Florida and Massachusetts, the winner captured 52% of the vote or less. Redistribution of a mere 8,000 votes would have swung the election to Ford; a juggling of some 200,000 ballots, on the other hand, would have given Carter a landslide of 400 or more electoral votes. Despite his dismally poor showing (.8% of the 80 million votes cast), Eugene McCarthy managed to shift at least three states to the PresidentMaine, Iowa and Oregon; had he been on the ballot in New York, it is conceivable that McCarthy could have siphoned enough votes from Carter to give the state's 41 electoral votes, and victory, to Ford.
Still, no voting group was more decisive than the blacks. Carter lost the white vote, 47.6% to 51.3%. But he won roughly 92% of the 6.6 million black votes, according to Washington's Joint Center for Political Studies. Though a CBS survey gave Carter only 82% of the black vote and the analysis by Pollster Louis Harris gave him 87.3%, the Joint Center is considered more reliable since it compiled statistics from 1,165 precincts where blacks account for 87% or more of the population. Carter's showing compares well with George McGovern's 87% of the black vote in 1972, Hubert Humphrey's 85% in 1968 and Lyndon Johnson's 94% in 1964. When a large group votes with such near unanimity, it puts a burden on a two-party system. Ultimately, the group could continually deprive one party of victory and wield excessive influence on the other.
On the face of it, the fact that a white Southerner should have benefited so greatly from black votes is an anomaly. To many blacks, it is not surprising. "Black folks intuitively felt a certain kinship with Carter," says Benjamin Hooks, a member of the FCC who has just been named as the next executive director of the N.A.A.C.P. (see box page 22). "There is a certain warmth and camaraderie with Carter. I don't think a Northern white man could have touched that deep well." Adds Lewis, who has dealt with both Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson: "The things Carter has said to me make me feel his sense of understanding and commitment are deeper than Kennedy's or even Johnson's."