Democrats should take note of this finding from a new poll of Black Americans by the Pew Research Center: “No matter where they’re from, who they are, their economic status, or their education, a sizable majority of Black Americans say that being black is extremely or very important to how they feel about themselves, with around three-quarters (76%) saying so.
The sense of solidarity within the black community is deep. “Beyond the personal importance of blackness — that is, the importance of being black to personal identity — many black Americans feel connected to one another. About five in ten (52%) say that all or most things that happen to black people in the United States affect what happens in their own lives, and another 30% say that some things that happen to black people on a global scale national have a personal impact. ”
Ten percent of blacks polled say they are Republicans or Republicans lean. That’s very close to the 12% of black Americans who voted for defeated former President Donald Trump in 2020. This segment of the black population has a very different view of identity, according to the Pew poll: “Black Democrats and those leaning toward the Democratic Party (75%) are more likely than Black Republicans and Republican supporters (52%) to cite their racial identity as a very or extremely important part of how they view themselves. Additionally, “Black Democrats and those with a Democratic Party leaning are more likely than Black Republicans and Republican leanings to say that all or most things that happen to black people in the United States (57% vs. 39%) and their local communities (46% vs. 30%) affect what happens in their own lives. »
Researchers on racial identity in America have come to similar conclusions. Theodore R. Johnson, the author of “When the Stars Begin to Fall: Overcoming Racism and Renewing America’s Promise,” tells me, “What stands out most is how black Republicans are out of step with the rest of Black America when it comes to the importance of their racial identity and sense of connection (bound destiny) to other Black Americans.
White Republicans may fantasize about a colorblind society, but that doesn’t align with the experiences of a vast majority of black Americans. Johnson explains that political scientists have “long discovered that the electoral choices of most black people are tied to a sense of bound destiny.” Others, he says, have noted “how black Americans’ sense of social responsibility to each other can limit their partisan and electoral preferences.” Johnson also notes that being a black Republican is different from being black with conservative values, which he says characterizes about a quarter of black Americans.
While Republicans may have limited salience with black voters, voting is not a binary choice. Voters can still stay home. As evidenced by the 2020 Democratic primary, black voters are extremely pragmatic voters. An earlier Pew survey found that a plurality of black Americans describe themselves as moderates; they also “express a high level of religiosity”. This is not a profile that aligns itself with the extreme left.
The latest Pew analysis is instructive in that it identifies the top concerns of black voters: Violence and crime received the highest level of concern (17%), followed by economic issues (11%). Other issues, such as covid-19 and public health (6%) and “differences between neighbors due to racism, diversity or culture” (3%) barely register.
The run-off of last year’s senatorial elections in Georgia also provides valuable lessons. Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael G. Warnock delivered moderate messages (without a whisper of “defunding the police”), largely mirroring Joe Biden‘s center-left appeal. Warnock was also a familiar and beloved figure in the black community as pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church that the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once led. Their voter outreach, working with black churches and groups such as Black Votes Matter, was personal and overwhelming. The result: Black Georgia voters turned out in droves to support them.
In 2016, Trump appealed directly to black voters with a silly question: “What do you have to lose?” The answer: a lot. The Republicans presented themselves as the party of white evangelical reactionaries, which puts a low ceiling on their support among black people.
Still, Democrats urgently need to convince voters that the stakes are high in the medium term and recreate the Ossoff-Warnock turnout operation that gave them a majority in the Senate. If black voters stay home, the midterm elections could turn into a rout.