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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: What Do Black Voters Want?

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

What Do Black Voters Want?

One thing’s for sure, it’s better to look at the actual data rather than the expressed views of leaders, self-appointed and otherwise, because the two can diverge very sharply.

In this regard, the recent poll of black voters conducted for the Black Economic Alliance by Hart Research is illuminating. As well summarized by David Leonhardt:

“In the poll, people were given a list of 14 economic policies and asked how much they thought each would help the black community. The list was full of progressive ideas: paid leave and better workplace benefits; a higher minimum wage; a federal jobs guarantee; stronger laws against discrimination; reparations for descendants of slaves; and more.

On a straight up-or-down basis, a majority of black Americans favored every one of the 14 policies. But there was a fairly wide gap in how much they thought each would help. At the top of the list were a higher minimum wage, stronger discrimination laws and better workplace benefits and training. About 70 percent of respondents said each of those would help “a great deal.”

At the bottom of the list: Slavery reparations. Second to last: a federal jobs guarantee. Only about half of respondents said each would help a great deal.

What’s going on here? To me, it’s a reminder that black Americans, as a group, don’t have the same political opinions as the most liberal parts of the Democratic coalition. On many issues, black Americans are more moderate — or perhaps more pragmatic.”

Of course, that’s not the impression you’d get from listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates, who recently testified before Congress on the issue of reparations. But then, Coates is probably pretty far away from the views of the median black voter. Closer perhaps is Coleman Hughes, a brilliant young (he’s still an undergraduate at Columbia) black intellectual, who also testified at that Congressional hearing.

“In 2008 the House of Representatives formally apologized for slavery and Jim Crow. In 2009, the Senate did the same. Black people don’t need another apology. We need safer neighborhoods and better schools. We need a less punitive criminal justice system. We need affordable healthcare. And none of these things can be achieved through reparations for slavery…

If we were to pay reparations today, we would only divide the country further – making it harder to build the political coalitions required to solve the problems facing black people today. We would insult many black Americans by putting a price on the suffering of their ancestors, and turn the relationship between black Americans and white Americans from a coalition into a transaction, from a union between citizens into a lawsuit between plaintiffs and defendants.”

This point–about the divergence between the median black voter and the views of certain liberal elites, both black and white–is also relevant to understanding the kerfuffles around Joe Biden’s various missteps around racially-inflected issues and how much they are likely to hurt him with black voters. Perry Bacon, Jr. addressed this question recently in a 538 column and gets it exactly right, I  think. While acknowledging that it’s certainly possible Biden’s statements will hurt him seriously, he thinks it’s quite possible that:

“[these statements] could alternatively not really damage him much at all — even among black voters. Poll after poll has found that Biden has very, very high approval ratings among black voters. For example, a survey conducted last month on behalf of the Black Economic Alliance found that 76 percent of black Democrats are either enthusiastic or comfortable with Biden’s candidacy, compared to just 16 percent who are uncomfortable or have some reservations. This was the best favorable/unfavorable of any of the candidates that respondents were asked about. And according to data from Morning Consult, which is conducting weekly polls of the 2020 race with large sample sizes — giving us more resolution on results for subgroups — older black voters really, really like Biden: He is getting more than 55 percent of the Democratic primary vote among blacks age 45 and over, compared to 34 percent among blacks under age 45.

So I’m skeptical that this controversy will substantially erode that support, particularly among older black voters who have such positive feelings about Biden. In the early stages of this race, he has already weathered another issue that involves race: his treatment of Anita Hill during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas in 1991, when Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

He concludes:

“It’s hard to predict what will happen to Biden’s standing in the wake of this week’s news. But I think it’s increasingly clear that the way we think about racial controversies (with the implication that minorities are particularly triggered by them) and the black vote (assuming it is fairly monolithic) are off. Biden’s positive mentions of his work with segregationist senators may have annoyed nonblack Democrats as much or more than black ones. And the biggest question is not whether it pulls all black people from Biden — the younger ones are already kind of ambivalent about him — but whether it breaks his bond with older black people.”

People like, well, Whoopi Goldberg, who said on the program, The View:

“After introducing Hot Topic with clips of Biden, Booker, and Harris, Goldberg launched into a passionate monologue defending Biden from his critics. “You have to work with people you don’t like,” she said of segregationists like Thurmond, Richard Russell Jr., and Sam Ervin. “Beat Biden in the debates. If you can beat him, beat him. Don’t try to make him out a racist.” Goldberg went on to say that Biden can’t possibly be “a racist” because “he sat for eight years with a black guy” in the White House. “What, did he have a noose in the background?” she asked, earning her a massive round of applause from the audience.”

So we shall see how all this works out. But above all, I recommend close attention to actual data about the views of black voters and–I’m looking at you white liberals–rather than making assumptions that the views of these voters match your own views.

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