Alabama, Georgia, Virginia. Over the last year strong black voter turnout in all three states drove progressive wins in a special election (Alabama), a primary(Georgia) and a general election (Virginia).
Why? To the chagrin of some, we think it centers squarely on identity politics. Not a few on the left wish to banish identity politics to the margins of political discourse. They say it will scare off too many working-class white voters. We don't think that's relevant when two-thirds of Trump supporters reside in the upper half of the income distribution.
Even where there is stronger support among blacks than whites, like for a national $15 minimum wage; expanding access to health care; and raising the threshold for when police can legally use deadly force, these issues are still supported by a majority of white voters. This means candidates can speak decisively to issues that black voters care about while still building white support.
For progressives, the wisest course is to turn out the base, starting with the black community. The political data firm TargetSmart analyzed the 2017 special election in Alabama where Democrat Doug Jones bested Republican Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreAlabama GOP gears up for fierce Senate primary clash Press: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Roy Moore loses lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen MORE to fill the Senate seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold MORE.
They found blacks accounted for 30 percent of all ballots cast, compared to casting 24 percent of ballots in 2016. That’s an increase of 25 percent. On average, 96 percent of the black community supported Jones, with black women leading the way at 98 percent. Normally, we would expect black turnout to drop as a percentage of votes cast for an off-year election as compared to a presidential election. Instead, black turnout won this election for Jones, putting the Senate in play in 2018.
Why the boost in black turnout, especially among black women voters? We believe it is in large part a result of the threat Trump and his allies pose to minority progress. For African Americans, Trump's rhetoric about "Make America Great Again," suggests he wishes to erase progress made over the last 50 years.
In our July poll we asked black voters whether they considered Trump a threat to progress made by African Americans. 69 percent of black voters who believe Trump is a threat say they are certain to vote in the 2018 midterms.
Only 39 percent of black voters who do not see Trump as a threat share that certainty. That's a stunning 30 point swing! In addition, we have found that 89 percent of black women, the group most likely to vote in Alabama, feel they have been disrespected by something Trump said or did.
In the Virginia governor’s race, we and Latino Decisions polled a month before the election and again just before election day. Support for Democrat Ralph Northam among black voters was initially quite soft but strengthened over the final weeks.
What changed? Republican Ed Gillespie (N.J.) began running scare mongering ads featuring brown skinned Latinos and the purported threat of crime. Democrats responded with mailers that visually tied Trump and Gillespie to the racist violence in Charlottesville. Black support jumped as distinctions between the two candidates crystalized. Black voters found Gillespie’s ads more jarring than even Latino voters did.
Candidates who want black support must focus on issues important to black voters. Further, candidates who wish to increase black turnout also need to make clear with whom they stand. The black community believes Trump is a serious threat, as are candidates who seek his support. If the objective is to increase black turnout in 2018, Democrats must clarify where they stand vis-à-vis Trump.
Henry Fernandez is principal and co-founder at the polling and research firm African American Research Collaborative. Follow him on Twitter:@afamresearch. Christopher Sebastian Parker is Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington and co-author of the upcoming book The Great White Hope: Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dead at 77 Biden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE, Race, and the Crisis of American Politics.