Linked fate, in a political context, suggests that black voters approach elections with one simple question: Which candidate is better for the African American population? The analysis begins at the most fundamental level by ascertaining which party or candidate is most likely to protect civil rights and support equal access to economic opportunity for blacks. Everything else is secondary. For example, a politician’s stance on renewable energy, free market economics, abortion, immigration, national debt, and role of the military in regional conflicts all pale in comparison to basic considerations of liberty.
African Americans may ask themselves: Can we vote? Can we work? Can we prosper? Can we live? With game-changing statutes like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 being signed into law by a Democratic president and routinely the target of Republican opposition, the Democratic candidate immediately emerges as the preferred candidate. A recent study also shows that when the candidate is black, the effects of descriptive representation raises the level of black voter participation and support even higher—an occurrence confirmed by historical black turnout rates in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
A competing view of linked fate is that black voters are not loyal to the party, but to each other at a deeper level than other races and ethnicities. A centuries-long history grounded in the shared experience of racial subjugation and discrimination produced a common bond among African Americans that leads them to view the world through the same prism. No matter how respectable and educated an African American was in the early 20th century, he or she was unlikely to be granted civil-rights protections until they were guaranteed for the whole race. The remnants of such views are still seen today, most prominently evinced in the Black Lives Matter movement. In short, there is no personal liberty without group liberty.
The uniform support of the Democratic Party may begin to erode in the post-Obama era. New research suggests that the political utility of linked fate has waned. Two recent papers—one from Harvard University and another from Harvard professor Jennifer Hochschild and Yale professor Vesla Weaver—argue that the impact of the linked-fate framework, now over 20 years old, on political views and participation has effectively been overcome by the influence of economic class on policy preferences.
The original conception of linked fate was crafted based on the behavior of black voters who lived through the Civil Rights Movement or were born shortly thereafter. There was more uniformity in the African American experience for the civil-rights era generations. But since then, three new generations of blacks have entered the electorate with a wider range of lived experiences and views than those of their parents and grandparents. Hochschild and Weaver found that income inequality among blacks today is higher than all other racial and ethnic groups, and that blacks with better economic well-being are much less likely to be victims of violent crime than those who are poor. This produces tangible stratifications in the African American experience that has ramifications in black political behavior. The authors also contend linked fate has taken on a form of social, not political, solidarity—and this may be welcome news to Republicans.