If you’re a Democrat who wants to win, your base has to be your priority. By and large, that base consists of Black women.
While some Democratic leaders have begun to shift focus to conservative White voters in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidential win, the success of Doug Jones in Alabama’s special election on Tuesday shows that counting on White women to support Democrats may be a misguided endeavor, even if the Republican candidate is a sexual predator, a misogynist, or a bigot.
Jones narrowly defeated embattled judge Roy Moore in a heated contest for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, becoming the first Democrat to win a statewide race in nearly 20 years.
CNN exit polls indicate that Black women — not White women who Moore chose to allegedly prey on — are to thank for this win. Data shows that 98 percent of Black women backed Jones. On the other hand, the majority of White women supported Roy Moore at a tune of 63 percent.
Overall, 30 percent of Tuesday’s total voters were Black, an unexpected turnout that was higher than both 2008 and 2012 when Barack Obama ran for president. This figure was also larger than Black voters who typically come out to Alabama’s statewide elections, which generally hovers at around 20 percent.
The election captured national attention in large part because it serves as a litmus test for where the country is headed politically, and some would say morally, as we gear up for the 2018 midterm elections. Does Trump’s presidential win and endorsement signal a new era of American politics where overtly bigoted views and sexual predation fail to deter Republican voters? Or are Democrats inspired enough to defeat this surge in unabashed misogyny and white supremacy?
History will show that, at least in Alabama, Democrats shifted the course. And Black women were its primary drivers.
Alabama’s first Black female judge, Faya Toure, was among the women leading the charge. Her “Vote or Die” campaign targeted the state’s “Black Belt” region, a string of nearly 20 counties with high Black populations. She rallied volunteers to distribute bumper stickers and yard signs at football games and rallies. Without endorsing any one candidate, her campaign — consisting of about 30 organizers — worked to raise voter participation among Alabama’s Black residents.
While Black women nearly unanimously supported Jones, White women's support of Moore may give people flashbacks of 2016, as exit polls show that 52 percent of White women voters supported Donald Trump while 94 percent of Black women who voted in last year’s presidential election supported Hillary Clinton. But these flashbacks can extend even further due to one basic fact: the majority of White women vote Republican regardless of the candidate.
Since the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — when political realignment officially made the Republican Party the host of white conservatism — White women have mostly pledged their allegiance to Republicans. Quiet as it’s kept, more White woman voted for Romney, McCain, and George W. Bush than they did any Democratic candidate.
Whether they are limited to a candidate who is overtly bigoted — like the Trumps and Moores of the world — or someone who uses covert, racist dog whistles — like the Nixons and Bushes — White women align with the party that has made it clear that protecting white power is its priority.
Whether they may lose reproductive rights, equal pay, or Affirmative Action policies that primarily benefit them.
Whether they are voting for a pedophile, a misogynist, or a xenophobe.
Whether they are promoting a candidate who is incompetent, mediocre, toxic, or subpar, the power of protecting whiteness, at seemingly any cost, is just as alluring to most White women as it is to White men.
The coded messaging behind Richard Nixon’s law and order campaigns, Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens, George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton, Romney’s attack of “the 47%,” and Trump’s outright appointments of white supremacists all signal to White people, no matter the gender, that their needs will be met and undeserving people of color will stay in their place.
What will be more surprising in future elections is not so much whether Black women will once again save the day to uphold reproductive rights, gender parity, and racial equality, but whether White women will finally step up to join them.