Black political power is important, not only for Black Americans, but for all other Americans as well, and not only for the future well-being and success of Black Americans but for that of the entire country as a whole. That fact has remained true ever since our ancestors fought for not just the right to vote in this country, but for political freedom.
These facts became even more apparent in the 2018 elections, when Democrats, fueled by Black voters, were able to take back Congress, and in scoring some huge wins across the nation, caused shifts in the political map.
Black political power is something that the Democratic Party should not be taking for granted, because Black voters are watching the 2020 elections very carefully, and they want big policy plans that not only give them the ability to prosper and have opportunity in this country, but also address the long history and current impact of racism on their lives and in their communities.
This became clear following a recent poll released by BlackPAC, an independent organization that conducts election polling, and specifically seeks to engage—and sustain the engagement of—Black voters to help change economic, justice, and political systems in the US.
The poll, which surveyed 613 Black/African-American registered voters across the nation between April 25 and April 29, revealed some interesting findings.
About 84% of Black voters polled said that they are paying attention to what is happening in politics and the upcoming election, with 92% of respondents saying that they are likely to vote in 2020.
“That number is important because that also is an indicator to us about how much people are paying attention, and how what they’re seeing is cognizant to say, ‘I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to use my vote as a way to demonstrate my resistance to what’s happening in the country right now,’” BlackPAC Executive Director Adrianne Shropshire told ESSENCE.
There are a range of issues that catch Black voters’ attention, including jobs, the economy, education, police accountability, the environment, climate change, voting issues, and women’s reproductive rights. However, on the top of 50% of the respondents’ list was racism and discrimination as it relates to the upcoming election. This is particularly a key issue for voters ages 18-24 and 65+.
“If you are a Democratic candidate running for the presidential nomination and you are not addressing issues and concerns that Black communities have around racism and bigotry in this country, then you’re going to have a hard time holding the attention of Black voters. It isn’t just about the sort of raising in a way that, ‘yeah, I get you are concerned about that.’ I think Black voters are looking for candidates to actually have positions in terms of policy positions for addressing where we are in the country right now,” Shropshire said. “Whether that is addressing the racial disparities and our economic and healthcare and education system, whether that this sort of conversation about reparations…whether it is simply showing the political courage to stand up and with some moral authority, push back against what we’re seeing in terms of open discrimination.”
In addition to that, 92% of respondents who are planning to vote say that the country is on the wrong track, while 90% of respondents who intend to vote say that economic conditions have not changed, or have in fact, gotten worse.
“You hear Trump and his Republican surrogates talking all the time about Black unemployment numbers decreasing, the problem is that Black voters don’t actually feel that change in the economy. People either feel their economic condition has remained the same or they think they feel like it has gotten worse,” Shropshire explained. “That sort of economic anxiety and the feeling like people are falling behind and certainly not getting ahead is true for all Black voters.”
“It’s important broadly for us to understand the experience that Black communities are having right now, what’s driving their participation, but also the anxiety that they’re having, it’s important for Democratic candidates to understand that as well,” she added. “Candidates who are going to be successful with Black voters are going to be the ones who actually understand the existential crisis that this country is facing right now and what is driving the division in this country, and they’ll embrace the ideas that Black voters are putting out there because they really aren’t just concerns of Black communities.”
Right now, the poll notes that candidates with higher name recognition (think Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders) enjoy more favorable opinions. Both Biden and Sanders have the highest name ID (both at 97%) and favorability (72% and 65%), However, this is not something that candidates like them should take for granted. Only 3% of responders said that the best reason to vote in 2020 is a candidate they believe in. In addition to that, other notable candidates, such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Corey Booker (D-NJ) enjoy an increased favorability among those respondents who are closely watching the news closely.
“For Senators Warren, Harrison, Booker, their favorability go up almost 10 points, or in some cases, more than 10 points full among voters who are paying close attention. Right? While you don’t have any of them sort of surpassing the favorability of Joe Biden, you do have Elizabeth Warren passing the favorability of Bernie Sanders among those voters,” Shropshire said. “When people have actual policy ideas that are directed at the real sort of challenges that people are facing in their lives and that Black people are facing in their lives, Black voters are going to listen to that….They want to make sure that candidates that they might support are actually going to be talking about ways in which they will govern, that will change people’s lives for the better. That would change Black people’s lives for the better.”
Shropshire believes that there is a real possibility and opportunity for candidates like the three senators to increase their name recognition among Black voters, by putting themselves out there—in places that are not typically on the highlight reel—and speaking on policy issues that impact Black communities in a real way.
“It’s still early,” Shropshire quipped. “There’s a long way to go, and I think the debates will begin to shape some different kinds of positions, I think, for voters. Folks will have to be held accountable to their prior records on [racial] issues, and they will have to talk about how their positions have changed, how their ideas have changed, and particularly speaking directly about the implications for Black communities.”
Another thing that the poll found is that Party affiliation as it relates to young people will be a long-term challenge for Democrats if they don’t step up their game.
The poll notes that of Gen Z respondents (ages 18-24), only 33% identify as a strong Democrat, with 22% saying they are “weak” Democrats, and 20% identifying as independents who lean Democrat.
Millennials (ages 25-39) hold similar opinions, with 41% identifying as strong Democrats, while 13% identify as weak Democrats, and 24% as independents who lean Democrat.
“There is very clearly a challenge with both Gen Z and millennial voters in terms of how they identify [politically]. You have much higher numbers of younger voters who identify as Independent, who lean Democrat, but Independent nonetheless. You don’t see that in the same numbers with older voters,” Shropshire explained.
And while Shropshire doesn’t see young Black folks necessarily going to the Republican party, it is still something for Democrats to pay attention to when it comes to defining who they are as a party, particularly on the issues most important to Black communities.
“The challenge is that clearly younger voters don’t totally understand who or what the Democratic Party stands for, don’t totally understand its values, don’t totally understand how its policy platform are going to affect them and their younger voters in their communities,” she said. “That’s going to be critical to be able to motivate voters, to be able to help mobilize voters to the polls, but also for sustaining any kind of support overall for the Democratic Party long-term.”