(The Hill) — Organizers are warning Democrats not to take Black voters for granted ahead of the midterms, worried that the party isn’t listening to the community’s concerns in an election year where their vote could be decisive in key races.
Advocates who spoke to The Hill expressed frustration that the Democratic Party consistently overlooks Black voters until it’s too late, a sentiment common in previous election cycles.
As the U.S. grapples with the possibility of a recession and social upheaval following controversial Supreme Court rulings, growing Black voter dissatisfaction could have an outsized impact on the party in an election year where the scales already feel tipped toward the GOP.
“When we look at the challenges that this country is facing, from health care to housing to safety, these things are disproportionately impacting communities of color, and Black communities specifically,” said Alicia Garza, principal of the Black to the Future Action Fund, an organization dedicated to building “Black political power in cities and states,” according to its website.
But instead of addressing these issues on the ground in Black communities, Garza argued, Democrats have been focused on regaining white suburban voters, particularly white women.
This is increasingly problematic when Black families are still reeling from the disproportionate economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, she added.
A recent poll from the Black to the Future Action Fund showed economic recovery among Black Americans’ top concerns, as Black renters and mortgage holders found themselves behind on payments and concerns of food and housing security soared.
The growing frustration within the community comes amid signs that President Joe Biden’s support among Black voters could be eroding. While a Washington Post-Ipsos poll released in June found that Black voters’ approval of the president remains the highest among most demographics, it also found signs they were less enthusiastic about him this time around.
And a New York Times-Siena poll released in July showed that Black voters were growing increasingly pessimistic about the American political system’s ability to solve the nation’s problems.
The numbers could serve as a warning to Democrats, who were bolstered in 2020 by Black voters, a demographic that has remained overwhelmingly loyal to the party. Adding to their concerns is a renewed effort by Republicans to court Black — as well as Hispanic and Asian — voters ahead of the midterms.
Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter, argued that Democrats need to speak to those issues that are of top concern to Black communities long before an election — something they haven’t been doing.
“It’s not just about supporting communities or knocking on doors two weeks right before Election Day,” Albright said. “There is no such thing as an off-year, because there’s no being off from the issues that impact our communities.”
But even as some politicians invest more time with Black voters, some in the community still feel unheard.
One of the biggest blocs of Black voters often overlooked is Black men, said Mondale Robinson, founder and principal of the Black Male Voter Project.
“The political space said Black men are apolitical or apathetic, but that’s incorrect,” Robinson said. Rather, Black men are antipathetic because of traditional campaigning that ignores the issues most concerning to them, he argued.
Robinson, a former political consultant, added that Democrats have been focused on responding to Republican talking points, such as the debate around critical race theory, in the hopes it will convince independent or undecided voters to vote for them.
But he said that’s unlikely to happen. Independents who vote Republican are unlikely to switch their votes and vice versa, he argued.
“What will happen is that Black voters will stay home,” Robinson warned. “Black voters are not a monolith, but when we vote, we vote monolithically. Democrats don’t understand that if you’re not talking to the issues that are plaguing Black people, then midterms are going to be a lot worse than they have to be.”
Additional concerns that Black men feel Democratic leaders aren’t addressing include criminal justice reform and restrictive voting laws.
Meanwhile, the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade have led to heightened concerns among Black women, Albright said.
Albright argued Black women will be disproportionately impacted by the court’s decision on abortion rights — Black women suffer higher maternal mortality rates and infant mortality rates — but it goes past just health care concerns.
He pointed to highway patrols that could stop women from attempting to cross state lines.
“We already know that we get stopped disproportionately, just for driving for any reason,” he said. “So imagine what it’s going to be like as a Black woman traveling around state to state trying to get an abortion. Anything that involves criminalization is going to impact our community worse.”
Albright said many within the Black community feel these concerns aren’t even considered by Democratic leaders.
Other Black voters, meanwhile, have expressed concerns over the increase in racial violence, particularly after the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y.
Garza said that she believes there are “unabashed” white supremacists currently serving in Congress and running across the country, mainly spurred on by former President Donald Trump.
“Black voters are experiencing that our government that is supposed to protect us is instead issuing a call to arms to groups and people in this country who would want to invoke racialized violence in order to maintain a balance of power in this country,” Garza said. “It’s a scary time (for) Black voters to be living in. Many of us have family members who have experienced racial terror and racial violence just for doing things like daring to vote or daring to love someone or daring to buy a house in a particular community. So that has a visceral effect for us.”
Garza said the Democratic Party needs to take a look at itself and address the racism that is within its own ranks, something that allows these messages of racial violence to proliferate.
Part of that could mean having the party invest in more Black candidates up and down the ballot.
Antjuan Seawright, a political consultant based in South Carolina, said that focusing on all elections, from federal to gubernatorial to local ones, would be in the party’s best interest.
“We often say this election is critical. It’s important. It’s consequential,” Seawright said. “But make no mistake, this midterm election is literally life or death for a lot of communities that look like mine, the ones I grew up in, because the people who will have their fingers on the decision-making pins will determine whether communities and the people in those communities will live or die.”
Seawright said he does feel Democrats have been making a stronger, earlier investment in Black voters and communities this time around, and many Black voters are motivated to vote for change.
But he cautions against placing the onus of Democratic wins on Black voters alone.
“We put a lot of weight and pressure on the shoulders of Black voters, and at the end of every election cycle we’re the first to blame,” Seawright said. “However, white voters have just as much of a responsibility to show up and vote their interest as we do. I refuse to embrace this narrative that if we win it’s because of other constituencies, but if we lose it’s because Black voters didn’t do their part.”