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Est. April 5, 2002
May 23, 2019 - Issue 790

Democrats’ Challenges
Black Voters in 2020

"Republican focus on uniting their base and
refining their voter turnout methods, and Trump’s
development and exploitation of anti-immigrant and
anti-minority sentiments. Democrats are na´ve in their
lack of understanding that Republicans are systematically
moving the nation toward economic, political,
and judicial Apartheid in plain sight."

Recap of 2016 Black Voter Participation in the Presidential Election

  • More than one-third (36%) of blacks who voted for Obama in 2012 did not vote in the 2016 election.

  • Black voter turnout declined by 8% between 2012 and 2016 (1.6 million stayed home).

  • Hillary Clinton received 88% of the Black vote in 2016 as compared to Obama’s 96% in 2008 and 93% in 2012 (with a higher turnout). Her percentage was in the range of Al Gore (90%) and John Kerry (88%) who lost their presidential elections in 2000 and 2004, respectively, also with a lower African American turnout.

  • Voter turnout increased to 65.3% for non-Hispanic whites, but decreased to 59.6% for non-Hispanic blacks in the 2016 presidential election. (Excepting the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, black voter turnout has trailed that of whites by more than 5%.)

  • Black voters were targeted for suppression by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 voting rights decision, Shelby County (AL) v. Holder, and Russian trolls on the Internet in 2016.

Biden, Buttigieg, Bernie (Sanders), and all the other white guys seemingly have a tin ear as to how to woo African American voters for the 2020 primaries. As current polls reflect (which mean little at this point other than for candidates’ fundraising), Joe Biden is far ahead of his rivals in his purported share of the black vote, as was Hillary Clinton during a similar time period in 2007. She had attained that status based on the immense popularity of her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Biden retains this advantage based on having been Vice President for the nation’s first black President, Barack Obama, for eight years.

The aforementioned white males, and their female counterparts, are largely relying on the historical fact that the overwhelming majority of black voters, who actually go out to cast a ballot, will reliably vote for Democratic candidates as a matter of practice no matter the level of outreach to them. Blacks vote for Democrats 85 to 96 percent of the time. However, black voters’ turnout has ebbed and flowed and has hovered below 60 percent for more than half a century.

When calculating the black voter participation, the percentages rather than the turnout are usually the focus. African Americans were critical to the close elections of Presidents’ Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton, and they also pushed Barack Obama over the 50 percent threshold twice, while allowing Bill Clinton to win two terms without getting 50 percent of the total vote either time.

Barack Obama remains the only Democratic candidate to have invested millions of dollars in get-out-the-vote (GOTV) initiatives targeted at blacks as well as whites on a consistent basis, and to have pushed black turnout comfortably above 60 percent of registered black voters in both his elections. In addition, he also consistently ASKED them personally, and through his surrogates, for their votes.

Jimmy Carter (1980), Walter Mondale (1984), Michael Dukakis (1988), Al Gore (2000), John Kerry (2004), and Hillary Clinton (2016) relied on traditional black political operatives who delivered the customary black percentages but not an increase in African American voter turnout. Their black staff members and consultants organized African American clergy leaders, had their candidates speak at their churches, and make presentations to black local and national organizations. Obama remains the outlier in meeting and touching the black masses. He respected and embraced them at every level and at all the times.

Biden, Bernie, and Buttigieg have renounced identity politics very publicly. Moreover, Biden has refused to endorse the creation of a commission to study reparations for African Americans, and he declined to apologize for sanctioning the horrible mistreatment of Atty. Anita Hill during the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings. Biden has also been steadfast in his support of the 1994 Crime Bill which significantly contributed to the mass incarceration of males of color and of females of color more recently. He disagrees with Atty. Michelle Alexander’s findings in her highly praised book, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010) that carefully documented this reality.

Biden is convinced that by continuously highlighting his ties to Obama, he will be able to garner the lion’s share of the African American vote and not address their concerns in education, criminal justice, health care, or on any other issues, essentially the same attitude shown by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden believes that blacks’ intense dislike of Trump leaves them no place to go.

Swinging to the center, he is focused like a laser beam on Trump voters whom he feels he can bring back into the Democratic fold in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin and thus win the 2020 presidential election after waltzing through the Democratic presidential primary. Like his failed Democratic predecessors, Biden is less likely to win the primary as a result of this arrogance.

He does not recognize how strongly blacks feel about the previously noted issues and that due to their annoyance with his dismissal of them, many will migrate to other candidates—e.g., Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren--who are gaining traction among black voters. Sen. Cory Booker, a favorite of the elite, is being waylaid by his earlier negative attacks on public education and the emerging and factual view that he is a stalking horse for the right-wing corporate Cartel of education reformers who are making millions off the marketing of corporate charter and voucher schools and other forms of public school privatization to minority parents.

What Democrats are failing to tactically and strategically address are the following challenges: escalating voter suppression via political gerrymandering and Voter ID initiatives, the Republican focus on uniting their base and refining their voter turnout methods, and Trump’s development and exploitation of anti-immigrant and anti-minority sentiments. Democrats are na´ve in their lack of understanding that Republicans are systematically moving the nation toward economic, political, and judicial Apartheid in plain sight.

Regarding the latter, Trump has nominated more than 150 right-wing federal judges. The U.S. Senate has confirmed two for the Supreme Court, more than 40 for the U.S. Appeals Courts, and more than 60 for U.S. federal district courts. What is even more disturbing is that, during their confirmation hearings, several declined to endorse Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade as being rightly decided and settled laws. Republicans are transforming our social, economic, and judicial systems as we know them.

Democrats must win in 2020 at all levels of government to arrest this move toward white Apartheid as our nation is on the track to become racially pluralistic with no one racial group holding majority status before 2040. Next week, we delve into other barriers to Democrats harvesting enough of the 2020 black vote to win the 2020 presidential election.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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