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A perceived threat could be the key to the black vote in 2018

A perceived threat could be the key to the black vote in 2018
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In 2016, pollsters and pundits poured over the data and declared that African American voters underperformed, so much so that the lower levels of black vote may have cost Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Gabbard considering 2020 run: report Claiming 'spousal privilege' to stonewall Congress MORE.

Why did the black electorate fail to mobilize in ways envisioned by the liberal elite? For white supporters of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE, it was about the rapidly changing demographics threatening “their” America. Sure enough, they turned out in great numbers to support Trump. For Latinos and African Americans, however, threat also played an important role in 2016.

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Trump, and his movement, represented a symbolic and material threat to the progress people of color made during the Obama years.

 

While post-election analysis of precinct data and voter rolls affirmed that Latino turnout was up in 2016, African American turnout declined relative to 2012.

Voter identification laws notwithstanding, one reason for the aforementioned roll off is that some in the black community failed to see Trump as a credible threat.

But for those who did see Trump as a threat, they turned out at very high rates in 2016, a point that gets lost in the shuffle when aggregate turnout is the barometer by which political engagement is assesses: 59 percent of black  registrants turned out in 2016 compared 62 percent in 2012.

When we look inside the data, however, especially in large national surveys of African American voters, we found strong evidence to support our point.

In the American National Election Survey (ANES) and the Collaborative Multiracial Post-election Survey (CMPS) black s most strongly opposed to Trump (relative to those who weren’t) were the most likely to vote, even after controlling for a host of well-known factors proven to contribute to political mobilization.

More specifically, among those who agreed that Trump was a direct threat to African American interests, e.g., he’s a racist, political participation and voter turnout was higher in 2016 than it was in 2012, exceeding the rates observed when President Obama was on the ballot. Perceived threat, it seems, was the key.

Now, eleven months after Trump was sworn in as President, black voters are recognizing the threat posed by Trump and his movement. Most recently, this was evidenced in the Republican campaigns of Ed Gillespie in Virginia and Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreFormer campaign aide to New Jersey governor says she was sexually assaulted by his ex-staffer Mellman: When questions don’t mean what they say CNN's Toobin: It's Trump's ‘nature’ to not believe accusations of sexual assault MORE in Alabama.

Word limitations associated with op-eds fail to let us do justice the myriad attacks Trump, Gillespie, and Moore leveled against black interests, let us identify a few of the highlights. The policy agenda of Trump, Gillespie, and Moore stands in stark contrast to a majority of black interests in the areas of health care, criminal justice, and tax policy.

One would think that the transparent racial animus harbored toward African Americans as evidenced by Nazi’s, the KKK and white supremacists marching in the streets, renewed support for pro-slavery confederate monuments, continued opposition to African Americans protesting for equal treatment by police, might be enough to stoke the perception of threat on the part of the black community.

But Judge Moore just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Just this week, he announced that America was at its best during slavery.

Let’s examine the more recent events. Last month in Virginia, research by the America’s Voice and the African American Research Collaborative suggested that black voters were the most mobilized to vote when they felt threat over Gillespie’s statements about pro-slavery civil war monuments, or his lack of condemnation for the Charlottesville hate rally.

In Virginia black turnout was higher in 2017 than in 2013 and in coalition with Latino voters provided the margin of victory for Democrat Ralph Northam. This data from Virginia is consistent with our national data on African American turnout and perceived threat.

Of course, the marquee event is the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate in which African American voters came out to vote at high rates given the threat that Republican Roy Moore represented.

His statements calling for an end to amendments to the constitution abolishing slavery and guaranteeing the right to vote, and his comment to an African American voter that America was at its greatest during the era of slavery, were evidence of his grave threat to black voters.

He attacked African American Congressman Keith EllisonKeith Maurice EllisonGOP lawmaker once belittled sexual harassment: 'How traumatizing was it?' Dershowitz: Obama, Ellison have 'special obligation' to condemn Farrakhan Ellison accuses ex-wife of physical abuse, divorce records show: report MORE (D-Minn.) for his being un-American because of his Islamic faith. In 2004 Moore opposed a state referendum to remove segregationist language from the Alabama Constitution.

In 1995 he gave a keynote address to the white supremacist group the Council of Conservative Christians.

Moore continued to promote conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace and posted racist memes on his Facebook page attacking African Americans who knelt during the national anthem, and his largest donor and “good friend” Michael Peroutka is an admitted secessionist who sits on the board of the League of the South, a recognized hate group calling for a white-only southern nation.

On election night in Alabama, Steve Kornacki of MSNBC cited extensive turnout data showing that African American turnout was much higher in December 2017 relative to November 2016, and appeared crucial to the Jones 20,000-vote victory.

In heavily black counties in Alabama, voter turnout reached upwards of 75 percent of the votes cast in the 2016 presidential — a very high mark for an off-year special election. In contrast, in rural and white parts of the state, turnout was about 55 percent of votes cast in the presidential.

Not only does it appear that turnout was up in the black community, but overwhelmingly 96 percent of black s cast a ballot for Democrat Doug Jones. As precinct-level and individual level voter data becomes available additional analyses will surely confirm these trends.

If nothing else, recent history suggests that the black community now recognizes Trump and the GOP as a threat, even if it didn’t do so during the 2016 election cycle. If Democrats make this a theme in 2018, and truly engage the African American community, their prospects today look a bit brighter.

Matt A. Barreto is professor of political science & Chicana/o Studies at UCLA. Christopher S. Parker is the Stuart A. Scheingold professor of social justice and political ccience at the University of Washington. Barreto and Parker are currently finishing their book, “The Great White Hope: Donald Trump, Race and the Crisis of American Politics.” Their 2013 book, “Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America” won the American Political Science Association best book award for Race, Ethnicity and Politics.