The white privilege Democratic primary

The 2020 Democratic primary is a failure of politics. Too many candidates in concert with media, dedicated to serving the interests of all Americans, especially the underserved, are doing the opposite: propping up a system that prioritizes the preferences of white voters. As a result, black voters’ desires are left to play second fiddle to white progressive narratives. 

Not a single Democratic candidate for president is racist. In fact, the majority of them have dedicated their careers to lifting up minority voices. But the system — like so much of the bureaucracy in America — is. 

It isn’t new to point out and bemoan the fact that the two earliest primaries are in majority-white states where voters don’t reflect the national party. Narratives and results developed around Iowa and New Hampshire create deep misrepresentation of the 2020 race.  


These narratives have the consequence of missing the core component of Democratic electoral wins: black voters. In our quest to quarterback the race, predominantly white electorates bestow “surge” status upon candidates who are out of step with crucial voting blocs. The result is that the atmosphere of this primary season is divorced from the reality of a) how elections are won for Democrats and b) the values and priorities candidates espouse in campaigning.

After big and important Democratic wins, black voters are lauded for their loyalty and consistency. From Alabama to Virginia to Georgia to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., blacks rightfully have been singled out for their ability to deliver votes. There isn’t another group that mobilizes the way that black women do. Look no further than Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, who tweeted after Sen. Doug Jones’ miraculous 2018 win in Alabama: “Let me be clear: We won in Alabama and Virginia because #BlackWomen led us to victory. Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and we can’t take that for granted. Period.”

Compare that statement to the coverage of the 2020 race. African Americans are still the most consistent, loyal Democratic voters and they also happen to be the biggest supporters of frontrunner Joe BidenJoe BidenPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force MORE’s candidacy. A perusal of the latest headlines tells you what you need to know about the narratives of the race, which have been far more interested in amplifying candidacies that garner little to no African American support while dismissing Biden’s as dull, gaffe-prone or safe. 

Biden consistently has commanded a staggering lead among black voters. Two-thirds of black voters over 65 are backing Biden, as well as 42 percent of black voters overall; Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift In defense of incrementalism: A call for radical realism MORE (I-Vt.) comes in a distant second with about 12 percent support. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenInequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift Thomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE (D-Mass.) is down at 8 percent and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete Buttigieg'Biff is president': Michael J. Fox says Trump has played on 'every worst instinct in mankind' Buttigieg: Denying Biden intelligence briefings is about protecting Trump's 'ego' Biden's win is not a policy mandate — he should govern accordingly MORE is not even registering at 1 percent.

This sounds like a pretty interesting story. Instead, “frontrunner, but …” is a common refrain. Consider the new Axios-NewsWhip 2020 tracker that found Biden has been bombarded by negative coverage. Of the 100 stories about Biden that got the most social media attention, 77 were negative. Presumably, the same is true of cable news. 


Even with the magnification of Biden’s gaffe-du-jour and the flow of media admiration of Warren’s surge — both of which reflect a true story — Biden’s backers are the most committed. Nearly 65 percent of his supporters say they’ll definitely support him, as opposed to just 34 percent of those who support other candidates.

The prioritization of narratives that consciously and unconsciously takes place in selecting stories, in analyzing data, in making all of the thousands of assumptions that are made in every moment of a campaign and its coverage boosts favored candidates of white voters. 

We are given important election threads in vastly different packaging. For instance, the night of the first home game for Clemson football this season, Biden drew 800 people to a rally in the upstate an hour before kickoff. The rally was covered in major publications, but it isn’t etched in anyone’s memory or revisited — and it certainly didn’t lead a national newscast. In contrast, Warren’s sprinting to the front of the crowd — a much smaller crowd than Biden’s, by the way — in New Hampshire is still discussed on TV news and is enshrined in GIFs and memes much the same as footage of Buttigieg responding to questions in Norwegian.

Why are candidacies backed by liberal white women the favored storyline over Biden’s durable lead buoyed by unwavering African American support? 

Extolling tales that boost favored candidates of white voters is a serious knock on black voters. It’s frankly insulting to Biden’s supporters and his career for the chattering class to continually intimate that Biden voters are just too afraid to like lefties and are playing it safe. 


Furthermore, this type of coverage contributes to disenfranchising black voters who already face greater obstacles in exercising their constitutional right to vote. The pile-on to tear down the candidate with the highest black support, in favor of candidacies running on far-left progressive policies with little to no minority appeal, is ugly. 

No candidate is above close coverage and no analyst would claim Biden is a perfect candidate. White liberals can love Warren or Buttigieg until the cows come home, but the belittling of Biden’s support reeks of privilege. This type of coverage is adding yet another systemic challenge to black Americans’ futures. 

Why is it so hard for people to grasp that Biden isn’t just the most “electable” but, rather, the candidate with positions most in line with Democrats’ preferences? His platform is made up of policies that poll incredibly well and his supporters aren’t masking their love for progressives in favor of a safe bet. They like Joe. 

Much ink has been spilled during the past few years blaming blame black voters for not turning out in 2016 at Obama-era levels. It follows that Democrats should not be so comfortable eviscerating the preferred candidate of African Americans. 

Black voters are either the backbone of the Democratic Party, or a minority easily ignored for the preferences of white liberals. We have to pick. 

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.