“You want our vote, come get our vote.” — Angela Lang, executive director, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities
The nation recently experienced a midterm election of historic dimensions: more than 47 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in November — the highest percentage since 1966. Black voter participation drove were a significant force in driving that turnout, and in electing the most diverse Congress in history.
But as the presidential primary cycle begins, candidates cannot expect to see an equal level of enthusiasm unless issues of racial and economic justice are addressed.
In fact, Black voter turnout fell seven percentage points in the last presidential election, falling from a high of 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016. National Democratic Committee Chair Tom Perez blamed the drop, in part, on candidates’ failure to engage the Black community: “African-Americans — our most loyal constituency — we all too frequently took for granted. That is a shame on us, folks, and for that, I apologize. And for that I say, it will never happen again!”
The upcoming congressional session will demonstrate whether incumbent lawmakers — most of whom will be running for reelection in 2020 — truly are making an effort to engage the Black community. Following an intensive campaign by the National Urban League to urge diversity in Senate hiring, only two senators have hired Black chiefs of staff — Doug Jones, who credited Black voters for his surprise victory in 2017 — and Elizabeth Warren, who has just declared her intention to run for president.
Research has shown that, more than ever, Black voters are basing their decisions at the polls on issues of racial justice and economic opportunity. A poll conducted by a coalition of civil right groups just after the midterm elections found that “to have similar or greater wins in 2020, candidates must invest in and engage communities of color and the issues that matter most to these constituents.”
Yet, only 57 percent of Black voters were contacted from a campaign, political party, or community organization about voting in the months prior to Election Day.
The poll further found that that Black voters support policies that unite and strengthen the nation:
– Equal pay for men and women (88 percent)
– Congress should pass the Dream Act (81 percent)
– Strengthening the Affordable Care Act (79 percent)
– Sexual harassment is a major problem (84 percent)
– Congress should enact strict gun laws (81 percent)
Candidates across the political spectrum who are searching for a blueprint for a platform that will address the concerns of Black voters can find it in the National Urban League’s Main Street Marshall Plan.
The National Urban League and the Urban League Movement take seriously our responsibility to challenge candidates for the highest office and remind them. Over the course of the 2016 election season, we invited all declared candidates to participate in a civil rights briefing. We also hosted a number of presidential candidates, Republicans and Democrats, at our conference. We are prepared to do the same, and we will expect every candidate to explain his or her plan to address racial justice and economic opportunity and face questions about the above issues and more.
Morial is president of the National Urban League.