Biden is losing the support of Black voters in swing states. Here’s what he must do to regain their votes.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
The political media went sideways recently when a New York Times poll indicated that 22% Black voters in six swing states critical to a Democratic victory were willing to vote for Donald Trump over Joe Biden. Biden is not doing great with other voters of color either. While the 2023 elections last week were great for Democrats overall in marquee races across the country, this should not be used to calm nerves about Democrats’ prospects in the 2024 election. Rather, the 2023 election results can be used as additional instruction on how to make up ground in a presidential election one year out. And it would behoove the Biden campaign team to really listen to and engage the very activists and strategists (many of whom are young and Black women) from these communities in order to rebuild a coalition that can deliver the White House and Democratic majorities in Congress again.
As someone who has helped develop messaging for Democratic campaigns and oftentimes carried it to the media outlets as a surrogate, I’m more than aware of the delicate dance required when responding to bad political news and affirming but downplaying its impact, as campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz did when asked about it on the record: “Our campaign is being built to win an election in November 2024 — not the next New York Times poll.” However, it is important that Munoz’s statement becomes reality, instead of the poll becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy of many people’s fears.
While Biden won Black voters in 2020, the Democratic coalition of Black voters has been slipping since Barack Obama was last on the ballot in 2012. In recent polling via Catalist, its analysis found that while 88% of Black voters in the 2022 elections voted for the Democratic candidate in their congressional district, it was down from 91% two years earlier. While the coalition is slipping across subgroups of Black voters (men, rural voters, and Black voters without a college degree), this slippage is particularly pronounced among Black millennials and Gen Z voters, a fact that the New York Times poll also backs up. What can account for this gradual decline in support even with the fact that Trump and the GOP are even more of a clear and present danger to democracy since 2020?
Even in my circles that are quite politically active, I’ve heard quite a few expressed concerns: voting rights legislation, which came to the floor but never passed in a Democratic Congress; policing reform legislation in the form of the George Floyd Policing Act died in a Democratic-led Senate in 2021; despite some loan forgiveness, there hasn’t been a policy put forward on how to change the status quo on student loan debt; the job market numbers have been better, but inflation is chipping away at the wages these jobs provide; groceries and the cost of housing (either renting or owning) have hurt many people’s wallets. As the saying goes in the Black community “When white folks catch a cold, Black folks get pneumonia,” which loosely translated means whatever adversely affects white people is going to be disproportionately felt in the Black community, especially on economic issues. And now with billions of dollars going to two foreign wars, many who aren’t particularly active are going to question priorities and wonder, “What difference does voting make?”
But what should really give Biden and Democrats even greater concern for 2024 is the vague disillusionment of older Black women voters as noted by CNN reporter John King in his reporting on Black voters in Wisconsin. I know from my own work and life experience that when Black women vote, they take their communities to the polls. Reminders of that are present not only today in women like Stacey Abrams, founder of New Georgia Project and Fair Fight, Angela Lang, founder and executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC), or LaTosha Brown, who co-founded Black Voters Matter, but throughout history with Diane Nash of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. If Black women voters are feeling the cynicism, you’ve lost your most potent ally of strategists and organizers.
And do not take this urging of Democratic-elected officials and party leaders to listen to Black strategists and activists on how to effectively engage Black voters as license to blame Black voters for any demonstrated lack of enthusiasm. Yelling at a Black voter to “just vote” who expresses discontent with the current state of politics and policymaking is way too close to how one yells at a recalcitrant puppy to “sit” after they’ve done something unpleasant.
The majority of Black voters are nothing if not pragmatic and end up voting for Democrats even when they are deeply disappointed. So when they express concerns, it is important to listen. The same thoughtfulness cannot be attributed to many white women voters who, in one breath, express disappointment in Trump and the GOP in supporting the actual overturning of Roe v. Wade, but in the next breath cast their vote for a candidate who thinks it’s fine to “grab them by the pussy” and lead a literal insurrection against the U.S. government. Worrying about democracy has all got a lot of us a little frayed, but taking it out on the folks who’ve held up the Democratic Party for decades ain’t it.
What can move the needle is progressive donors funding not only the Black and brown-led movement organizations in these communities that will engage in daily voter conversations, registration and turnout but also the Democratic Party in each state so that they can build base-voter operations much like what we’ve seen the Democratic Party in Wisconsin successfully do. It’s also imperative that the presidential campaign down to other Democratic federal, state and local races recruit and hire Black campaign staff and consultants in decision-making roles on strategy, policy, communications and organizing; no one knows our communities better than we do. And while the Biden campaign and Democrats should talk about tangible policy results, listening to, acknowledging and taking action on what Black voters are saying and feeling will go a long way. It’s still a year out from the 2024 elections and much can change, but only with definitive action that starts now and not in the summer of 2024.
Atima Omara is the founder and principal strategist for Omara Strategy Group, a progressive political and advocacy consulting firm. She is an award-winning leader, strategist and advocate who has worked for many Democratic political campaigns and progressive causes across the country.
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