On October 15th, we’ll be four Democratic presidential debates in and roughly as many months out from the 2020 Iowa Caucus—the moment that will likely narrow the field to just a handful of contenders. Voters have a lot of questions that need definitive answers from candidates between now and then, and if they’re anything like me, many are getting antsy waiting on those answers.

Having a lot of potential leadership options and the most diverse field of candidates in our country’s history is ultimately good for voters. But there is a downside when debate time rolls around: The crowded stages allow little opportunity for voters to hear candidates adequately explain the details, and debate the differences in their plans to address American’s needs and concerns.  

The candidates on the debate stage are now culled by half, however, and it’s time for these conversations to happen. After all, a good number of voters are still struggling to figure out who they will support at the ballot box. Ten to 18 percent of the electorate is still undecided. That percentage climbs even higher once Democrats dig into their base–Black women. Twenty-six percent of them are undecided, though 95 percent intend to vote.

Such numbers suggest that the nomination is far from settled, and it could turn on whether a candidate is able to win over a majority of undecided voters, particularly Black ones. As a recent article highlighted, Black voters are “the most essential part of the traditional Democratic coalition.”  And Black women may hold the key to mobilizing that coalition toward a particular candidate. We vote at a higher rate than our male counterparts, and when we go to the ballot box we don’t just bring ourselves. Our activism also shapes the issues and brings others in our communities out to the polls.

Given this reality, candidates would do well to spend some time speaking to the issues that most concern Black women voters when they meet for the next debate on October 15th. A recent poll of Black women voters by my organization, Higher Heights for America, can provide some important notes to both moderators and candidates on what to cover. Conducted in late August, the poll asked 887 voters—86 percent of whom were Black women—to prioritize the issues most affecting them and their communities. They were also asked to identify what they believe should be the focus of the next U.S. President during their first 100 days in office.

democratic debate
MIAMI, FLORIDA – JUNE 26: (L-R) Former housing secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) react during the first night of the Democratic presidential debate on June 26, 2019 in Miami, Florida. A field of 20 Democratic presidential candidates was split into two groups of 10 for the first debate of the 2020 election, taking place over two nights at Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Healthcare overwhelmingly topped the list as Black women’s most pressing individual concern (cited by 45.59 percent), while criminal justice reform topped their list for the most important issue facing the Black community (cited by 22.67 percent). Healthcare also won out as the issue that Black women believe should be the new president’s top priority (cited by 25.85 percent), and addressing safety and gun violence was a close second (cited 23.69 percent).

Jobs, the economy and education also ranked high on Black women’s list of concerns, but the data shows that health, freedom and safety are the most urgent issues. And given the tenor of so many current leaders, it should not be a surprise that these issues top the list. Perhaps the bigger surprise is that we have yet to hear them taken up on the debate stage in any substantive manner. Let’s hope that changes on October 15th.

Glynda C. Carr is President/CEO of Higher Heights for America is a national organization committed to building  Black women’s political power and leadership from the voting booth to elected office.

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