WASHINGTON -- You can blame disillusioned white men, or you can blame a shrinking Democratic base, but do not blame the creation of majority-black congressional districts for the midterm election debacle suffered by Democrats, says the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
In assessing the causes of the Republican electoral sweep, some analysts have suggested that the creation of majority-black congressional districts, especially in the South, was a significant factor in the Democratic loss because it siphoned black voters from districts where black support had previously helped keep white Democrats in office.
Without the black voters, the analysts said, many districts went Republican, contributing to the GOP sweep that saw the party gain control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
"We took a long, hard look at those 54 seats that were lost [by the Democrats], and we're here to tell you that the facts don't bear that out," Elaine R. Jones, the legal defense fund's director, said at a news conference yesterday.
The legal defense fund, which is independent of the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, acknowledged that redistricting resulted in the loss of only one Democratic seat in Congress -- the Second District in North Carolina -- an assertion disputed by other analysts.
"Certainly, minority districts aren't the only factor in what happened," said Earl Black, a political scientist at Rice University. "But I think there is some relationship between the creation of safe black districts and what happened. I think it played at least an indirect role by making other districts more competitive for Republicans."
Criticism of the black districts, the legal defense fund asserted, amounted to an attack on the Voting Rights Act, which the fund has strongly supported. The act requires that blacks and other minorities be grouped in election districts when possible to increase their opportunity to determine the outcome of elections. Redistricting after the 1990 census resulted in 16 blacks being added to Congress in 1992.
In its review of the 1994 Democratic losses, the legal defense fund found that 24 of the 54 House seats lost by Democrats were in states that had only majority-white congressional districts. An additional 15 Democratic losses occurred in mostly white congressional districts that are surrounded by other majority-white districts, meaning that black voters -- who are usually loyal Democrats -- had not been skimmed to create minority districts.
The legal defense fund found that only 15 Democratic losses occurred in majority-white districts that adjoin minority-controlled congressional districts.
And of those districts lost by Democrats, eight had either increased their base of minority voters or had kept it at the same level since 1990, the report said.
"When you look at the reality and the math and what really happened here, it can't be said that the creation of majority [black] districts" caused the Democratic losses, Ms. Jones said.
Analysts disagreed with parts of the defense fund's review.