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Analysis/Commentary

Black Voters and Democrats- Analysis

Do Democrats take advantage of black voters?

Whether or not democrats take advantage of black voters is likely to be at the front of everyone’s mind as the Trump campaign appears prepared to make a play for this demographic, something Republicans haven’t done in earnest since Nixon’s ‘southern strategy’. It’s also something for which most people have a reflexive answer – Democrats say no, Republicans say yes. For those of us smart enough to grasp more than two degrees of complexity, the truth is much more complicated.

Say what you will about the Confederate flag debate and Nixon’s ‘southern strategy’, but they aren’t the best way to win over black voters.

Democrats DON’T take black voters for granted…

Republicans will argue, and I suspect black voters feel privately (though they may not admit it publicly), that Democrats take the black vote for granted. It’s an easy argument to make, given the treatment those like Clarence Thomas and Kanye West have received. There seems to be a sense of quasi-entitlement among Democrats that black voters are ‘theirs’ – and a corresponding violent, angry reaction when anyone threatens that dynamic by rejecting African-American groupthink. Furthermore, there certainly ARE some Democrats who do think this way – they just aren’t the norm, in my opinion.

…but they do take advantage of black voters

Still, it’s hard to argue black interests are prioritized by Democrats – their opinions and preferences tend to take a backseat to other lobbies, notably the LGBT community and the progressive left. However, it’s not racism, per se; nor is it a lack of appreciation for the role of African-Americans within the Democratic caucus. It’s simply pragmatism, and in a roundabout way, the Democrats’ mistreatment of black voters can be tied, again, to the Republicans. To understand the dynamics better, let’s take a look at Andrew Cuomo’s failure to legalize marijuana in New York, despite having complete control of the legislature (in 2019; C-19 sunk the legislation this year).

2019 New York Cannabis Legalization – A Case Study

Let’s start with a simplified summary of what happened for those unfamiliar with the debate. Passing over the procedural complexity, a major sticking point in the legislation was how much of the revenue would be given to communities disproportionately affected by the marijuana prohibition, which is a nice way of saying ‘black people’. However, the sticking point wasn’t the money, per se; both Governor Cuomo and the Assembly’s Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes agreed on the principle behind the initiative. It wasn’t even the amount that was the issue. It was control.

Cuomo wanted black voters to take, on faith, that he would distribute the cannabis revenue equitably; this didn’t sit well with Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes.

Governor Cuomo wanted control – he had no problem distributing the money to the black community, but he wanted final say. Peoples-Stokes and others wanted the money put in a separate fund to guarantee it would go to social justice causes; theoretically, Governor Cuomo could have spent the money on education, law enforcement, or any other issue he chose. However, he gave his word that a ‘fair amount’ would be distributed to ‘traditionally disadvantaged’ communities. Regardless of your thoughts on set-asides, it’s hard to blame black voters for not wanting to take a white politician at their word.

Black Voter’s BATNA

A major part of the problem is that black voters simply lack an alternative. Since Nixon, the GOP has made no real effort to reach out to black voters and turned a blind eye, or at least begrudgingly tolerated, views like those expressed by Representative Steve King. As a result, the Democrats don’t have to worry about who black people will vote for – they just have to get as many as they can to vote. This contrasts with other Democratic interest groups, such as unions (whose members voted Trump in droves) and the progressive left (who are more ‘privileged’, i.e., they’re better funded and better connected). As a result, when something has to give, it’s always the black thing that’s the first to go – they won’t leave like union voters and they lack the inside access of progressive activists. They aren’t alone in American politics.

Blacks and Evangelicals

Given the importance of the church in African-American culture, it’s fitting that they would find a political parallel in the evangelicals of the Republican party. Both lag the party proper in education and income; in a sense, they both make up the foot-soldiers of the respective parties and often find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to policy determinations for the same reason – they have nowhere else to go.

If you really like Donald Trump, that’s great, but if you don’t, you have to vote for me anyway. You know why? Supreme Court judges, Supreme Court judges.

Donald Trump’s comments during a 2016 campaign rally, though directed at ‘Never-Trump Republicans’ epitomizes the attitude Republican elites have towards Evangelicals and Democratic elites take towards black voters.

It’s not that either party dislikes or disrespects their respective element. My guess is that, if addressed privately, most activists of both parties would acknowledge their shortcomings. However, politics is pragmatic. When you’re trying to get to fifty plus one, you tend to focus less on those who are solid than those on the fence.

Conclusion/TLDR

Yes, Democrats take advantage of black voters; no, they do not do so intentionally.