Do Black Folks Overestimate the Power of Their Vote?
Yes. And no. But yes.
Before we go into why, let me start by saying that I am all for the black vote. Not just philosophically, but I actually work to counter disenfranchisement and mobilize black voters. I’m a contributor for a black media station, and I work for a black strategy firm. There are few things that I believe more in than the black vote. But the power of the black vote has its limits.
Take, for example, Vermont. With a Caucasian population of 95%, Vermont is the whitest state in the US. 1% of the population is black. There is no statewide or federal election where the black population will hold the majority vote. There aren’t enough voters in the black electorate to leverage the power necessary to advance a black agenda in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, or as a third party.
Another example is Montana. Montana isn’t the whitest state in the nation, but it is the least black. With a population that is 89% white and .4% black, there is very little the black community can do to advance their agenda as a lone voting bloc. They would have little success using their votes to leverage authority through either party or by forming a third party.
Black folks in Vermont, Montana, and other states where they are dramatically outnumbered by white voters will have to operate strategically if they want to participate in the advancement of the Black agenda.
To increase their leverage, they can strategically align with other non-white communities on common issues. For example, in Montana the Black community could create ties with the 7% of the population that is indigenous and the 3% that is two or more races to increase the leveraging power of non-white voting blocs seeking to protect themselves from white agendas and advance the agendas of their own communities. This leveraging power can also be used to run and elect more indigenous and black candidates. These candidates can then adjust policy for the betterment of their communities from the inside.
For black folks in overwhelmingly white states, though, true protection and advancement will only come through the passage of legislation at the federal level. This will take the mobilization of black voters in states with dominant black populations and states with largely white populations, but large pockets of black voters. (For a more detailed description of these states, click here.)
Take Pennsylvania, for example. Black folks are outnumbered by white folks 81% to 11%. So, on the surface it would seem like the black community has very little chance to advance electorally. Being outnumbered doesn’t stop the white nationalists from winning, though, so there’s no reason it should stop the black community. Black voters in Pennsylvania comprise large communities in key cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In fact, their populations are sizeable enough to completely dominate local politics should they strategically harness the power of the black vote and strategically direct it.
At the state and federal levels, Democrats and Republicans are running tight enough races that the mobilization of the black vote could be used to topple GOP candidates, and leverage power over a Democratic party that has not historically been responsive to the needs of Black Pennsylvanians.
Unfortunately, the black community in Pennsylvania has failed to mobilize their voting bloc effectively as evidenced by their abysmally low voter turnout rates.
The same can be said for a number of other states where black communities could change the outcomes of elections by strategically mobilizing in key localities. They include Pennsylvania (20 Electoral college votes), Michigan (16 Electoral College votes), and North Carolina (15 Electoral College Votes). If these states alone were mobilized, though, the black community would hold 51 electoral college votes that could be used to create the pressure needed to advance the black agenda at the federal level. And these states, which comprise just under 20% of the Electoral College votes needed to put a candidate in the White House, are just the tip of the iceberg.
Even more power can be leveraged if black communities collaborate with indigenous, brown, and intersected poor, queer and disabled communities. Take Florida, for example. 54% of the population of Florida is white. White folks are dangerously close to losing their majority in the state, and they have already lost their majority in the Democratic Party.
At 26% of the population, Latinos can position themselves to carry significant weight within the Democratic party and throughout the state. Plagued by failures of Democratic outreach, voter suppression and low voter turnout, though, Florida Latinos have yet to capitalize off of the power of their electorate. Similarly, while they comprise 17% of the population, black communities in Florida have failed to leverage the power of their votes within the Democratic party or throughout the state of Florida.
If Black and Latino populations come together on key issues and for key elections, though, they can dominate the field within the Democratic Party and take control of power away from the Republican Party. They are already close.
In 2016, Trump walked away with Florida’s 29 Electoral College votes after securing less than 1.5% more votes than Clinton. And in 2018. Black Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum lost his bid for governor to Ron DeSantis by only .4% of the vote. If black and brown voters strategically worked together in states like Florida, they could successfully defend their communities from white nationalists in the GOP while finding ways to support each other in the prioritization and advancement of their own individual Black and Latino agendas within the Democratic Party.
Unfortunately, anti-immigrant groups like #ADOS are working to place a wedge between black and Latino voters and there is little being done by the Democratic party to ensure that strategy fails. There is also little to no work being done by the Democrats to effectively unite these blocs.
That brings us to states where the black population is large enough to dominate both politics within the Democratic Party and against the white nationalist controlled GOP on their own. For the most part these states are still under the control of the Southern Confederacy. Take Mississippi, for example. The black population of Mississippi is rapidly approaching 40%.
With the white vote split between Democrats and Republicans, black folks in Mississippi should be in complete control of the Democratic party and dominating the Republicans in local, state and federal elections. This electoral potential has yet to be tapped, though.
As a result, Mississippi and its 6 electoral college votes are still under the control of the neo-Confederates and white nationalists of the Republican Party. The same can be said about Georgia (16 Electoral College Votes), Alabama (9 Electoral College Votes), South Carolina (9 Electoral College Votes), and Louisiana (8 Electoral College Votes).
So, while they Black Community is trying to leverage authority through voting power, or withdrawal of voting power, they haven’t organized enough voting power to liberate states with black dominant populations from the grip of white nationalist. And in doing so, they not only fail to push their agendas forward at the state and federal levels, they leave another 48 college votes undefended in the Presidential elections in these four states alone.
If the black community harnessed the power of the vote, they could potentially take control of 128 Electoral College votes from just the states mentioned above. This would leave the black community with almost half of the Electoral College votes needed to elect a President. And with that, they could apply some significant leverage in the efforts to advance a black agenda.
But that’s not happening. In fact, the power of the black voting bloc is diminishing. As political strategist and analyst Charles Ellison describes in his article entitled Black Political Movements Should Not = Reduced Political Power:
“Black voter participation, or the Black share of the total voting population, has diminished since 2012, where it was the last time it peaked at a high of 13 percent, matching its official U.S. population count. That was also the last election of President Barack Obama. But, by the 2014 midterms, Black voter share dropped 1 full percentage point to 12 percent….in the 2016 presidential election cycle, Black voter share of the electorate stayed flat at 12 percent — one percentage point lower than its performance in the last presidential election and at a time when it was needed the most…”
Black voters aren’t gathering electoral momentum to leverage. Black voters aren’t turning out. They are choosing to not vote. They aren’t fighting voter suppression. They aren’t putting up candidates to compete with white candidates. And that has to change. All of it.
Black voters have the power to completely revolutionize politics in the United States, but only if they gather that power and direct it into an electoral ass kicking. Right now, they the black voting block is hedging its bets on potential. It needs to start competing with electoral power.
Despite voter suppression, GOP efforts to convince black folks to self-disenfranchise, and lack of enthusiasm for a candidate at hand — the only way for black communities in the United States to harness enough power to leverage against white Democrats and Republicans is to out vote them. Every time. No matter what.
Destroying the power of the black voting bloc won’t get us there. Isolating ourselves into our most tactically comfortable and racially homogenous circles won’t get us there. Turning on other communities of color isn’t going to get us there. And complaining about it all on Twitter won’t get us there.
Completely dominating white voters at the polls WILL get us there. Mobilizing, incentivizing, and supporting black voters will get us there. Consistently and repeatedly shaming white voters at the polls is what will push forward the black agenda. The power of the black vote, once mobilized, cannot be over-estimated. Until it is strategically mobilized, though, it cannot be used to leverage power.
To find Dr. GS Potter on Twitter, click https://twitter.com/DocPotterGS