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Black voters already know the GOP wants to take their rights away. Do other voters?

By Justin Phillips, San Francisco Chronicle | November 6, 2022

In the final days leading up to the midterm elections, two new polls highlight the potential for significant Black political participation in California as well as the concerns that Black Californians consider to be most pressing.

A survey of 1,200 Black adults in North Carolina, Georgia and California published by the Black to the Future Action Fund, an organization dedicated to increasing Black political power, found 84% of Black Californians said they were “likely to vote” and 72% said they were “almost certain to vote.”

A voter-registration coalition called Power California conducted a different poll of 1,400 Californians between the ages of 18 and 30. The results showed that Black respondents were quite educated about key social and economic concerns, including growing housing costs, gun violence and homelessness, issues that are driving voters.

These polls reiterate how engaged Black voters are in politics, despite the fact that politicians have never consistently viewed Black voter participation as essential to democracy.

“Black voters are engaged whether it’s a presidential year or midterms,” observed Rebekah Caruthers, vice president of the nonpartisan election reform organization Fair Elections Center, which was not involved in the polls. “What we see is a difference in the level of investment by politicians in Black communities” depending on the election year.

Caruthers, who has spent 20 years working on political campaigns, said political analysts frequently refer to Black people as “low-propensity voters,” a term suggesting Black voters are uninterested in politics and therefore less deserving of political engagement during election seasons.

Black voters’ consistent support of the Democratic Party has also allowed politicians from both major parties to overlook the Black community as they fight over other voting blocs, Caruthers noted.

“You hear of politicians’ investment of suburban moms. You hear of investment in the working class. But there are Black voters who are suburban moms. There are Black blue-collar workers,” she said. “Just because there isn’t an investment in those communities doesn’t mean Black voters aren’t interested in what’s going on at the ballot box.”

That’s not to say that Republicans have given up on siphoning the Black vote. The party saw some success in persuading 14% of Black men to support Donald Trump in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, through a timely brew of poisonous online misinformation and justifiable animosity about the Democratic Party’s electoral shortcomings.

Trump asked Black voters what they had to lose by siding with the GOP in 2016. The answer, it turns out, was a lot, including body autonomy and voting rights. In 2020, the number of Black men who voted for Trump dropped to 12%.

Democrats have been frankly terrible at exposing the ridiculous myth that Republicans are the party of the economy and public safety when corporate profits are a major driver of the current inflation crisis and lax gun laws in conservative states are a major contributor to gun violence.

Young and old Black voters say inflation is one of their biggest concerns heading into the midterms. This year, 22% of young Black respondents to Power California’s study stated they had to sleep in their cars or shelters because of economic uncertainty. Nearly 30% of Black people admitted to having fallen behind on a rent payment.

Voters’ perceptions of which party can best address their kitchen-table issues will be revealed in Tuesday’s election, whether it’s an impotent Democratic Party or a legislation-blocking Republican Party. Black voters have a long track record of favoring pragmatic solutions over those that strictly adhere to party lines.

“Like a lot of my friends, I don’t identify with one party or another,” Power California director Saa’un Bell told me. “Voting is about carving out a political space for ourselves, and continuing to think about how we can create the conditions in our lives that we want.”

History tells us that when Black voters do precisely that, America benefits.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Justin Phillips appears Sundays.

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