Stacey Abrams Showed Power of African American Vote in South
In the 2018 election for Governor of Georgia, Stacey Abrams achieved a historical milestone. Like Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama before her, Stacey Abrams demonstrated the power of the African American vote in deep Southern states. Many within Democratic party circles often acknowledge the role of African American voters as the “base” of the Party; however, within some of those same circles, there has been a reluctance to make the major investments necessary to educate and mobilize infrequent African American voters to vote their numerical strength on a more consistent basis.
Conservative White Democrats or African American Base
On the contrary, there have been several instances where millions of dollars have been spent chasing so-called moderate to conservative white Democrats who ‘may’ vote with Party while investing little to no resources to turn out the black vote. While Stacey Abrams did pick up significant non-African American support within Georgia, it is clear that the anchor of her near upset was a motivated and mobilized black vote. Simply put, she and Georgia’s African American voters put Georgia, “in play”.
Stacey Abrams Embraced the African American Vote
Stacey didn’t run away from, or try to down play the African American vote. She embraced it. In so doing, she taught a lesson to Democratic politicians. The lesson is quite simple. If you know which voters constitute your base, then the key to victory is to do everything you can to motivate, mobilize, and turn out your base.
African American Voters Have Needs Too
Of course, African American voters are very intelligent voters. They want to win. But to get them to vote in winning numbers, you have to articulate a public policy agenda that addresses their needs and aspirations. The ‘old adage’ is just as true for African American voters as it is for other voters. To the victor, goes the spoils. If you want to win with black votes, then you have to deliver for the black community.
Many Opportunist Politicians Betray Black Voters
It is on this point where many Democratic politicians fall woefully short. They want to win, but then they appoint officials and enact public policies that are sometimes contrary to the interests of the African American community. A good example of this is the proliferation of democratic district attorneys across the US who get elected with black votes and then fail to prosecute corrupt and murderous police officers who bring harm and death to the African American community.
Stacey Abrams Showed the Path to Victory in Georgia
Democrat Stacey Abrams was poised to be America’s first black woman governor in Georgia during the 2018 midterms. The disenfranchisement of African American voters by her opponent, Brian Kemp, is, in the eyes of many, the reason why Stacey Abrams was not elected Governor of Georgia in 2018. She lost by only one 1.5 percentage points. One of the lessons of her 2018 electoral loss is that African American voters need to target the office of Secretary of State in those states where they have a sizable population.
Even though she did not emerge from that race as Governor of Georgia, she – and future African American candidates for office in the Deep Southern – won.
Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum Showed Viability of Statewide Black Candidates in South
The Stacey Abrams candidacy – combined with the breakthrough candidacy of Florida’s Andrew Gillum – help to dismantle the implied fear of many Democratic observers that black nominees cannot be viable statewide candidates, especially in the Deep South.
Few Black Statewide Elected Officials
In general, despite the election of Barack Obama and the near proportional representation of blacks in the U.S. House of Representatives, blacks are underrepresented in statewide offices like governor, U.S. senator, secretary of state, and state attorney general.
Not Much Change Since Reconstruction in Black Statewide Office Holding
In the more than 150 years since Reconstruction, there were only two elected black governors, 14 lieutenant governors, six elected U.S. senators and, until election day 2019, four state attorneys general. On election evening 2018, four African- Americans won races to serve their as attorneyh general and one African-American gained a lieutenant governor’s seat.
Voting Rights Litigation and Redistricting Responsible for Major Growth of Black Elected Officials
Scholars attribute portion of the current disparity to demographics. While there are congressional districts with huge minority populations which have a history of electing black representatives, no state has a majority black human population that would likely do the same. The large increase in African American members of Congress, state legislatures, and local municipalities following the 1990 census was a direct result of litigation by voting rights attorneys and the deliberate drawing of majority black congressional, state legislative, and county commission or city council districts by voting rights technical experts.
Because no state has a majority African-American human population, scholars and political analysts have opined about the likelihood that nonblack voters would be willing to vote for black candidates statewide.
More Racially Polarized Voting in Southern States
States like Massachusetts and Virginia, which have larger white Democratic populations, have elected African-American governors. However, this has been less likely to happen in the Deep South, where racially polarized voting is more stark and gives the advantage to Republican, typically white, candidates. For these reasons, African-American Democratic applicants for statewide office in Georgia, as in other areas of the Deep South, have often faced skepticism.
Established Black Elected Officials Decided Not to Run Statewide
Often, seasoned black candidates, such as former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, have chosen not to run for statewide office. The same was true of Marc Morial, former mayor of New Orleans.They decided not to waste political capital on a race that would be hard for any African American or Democrat to win. While former Atlanta mayor, Maynard Jackson, did make an early run for the US Senate in 1968, he later concentrated on the majority black City of Atlanta. Maynard realized the significant challenges inherent in an African American being elected statewide at that time.
Moderate White Democrats Lost
In lieu of willing African American candidates, Georgia Democrats have often nominated centrist white politicians such as, Michelle Nunn (daughter of former US Senator, Sam Nunn), Roy Barnes, or Jason Carter. They wished such individuals could bring white suburban voters back to the Democratic Party. Those whites began leaving the party following the civil rights movement, and helped to deliver the governor’s mansion to the Republicans in 2002.With the exception of Roy Barney,who won a single term as Georgia Governor in 1999, those white centrist candidates were unable to excite the African American base of the party. Likewise,they also failed to deliver so-called white moderates. These white Democratic candidates ended up losing.
Stacey Abrams Offered A New path
In the context of the failure of moderate white democrats before her, Stacey Abrams offered a new path. She made a direct appeal to Georgia’s 32.4 percent African American population. Stacey Abrams added Latinos to her coalition as well. Latinos make up just shy of 10 percent of Georgia’s population. Asian Americans make up also 4.5 percent of the population, and Native American, another .5 percent.
Georgia’s Population 47.2 Percent People of Color in 2018
Anchored by a people of color population that is over 47 percent, one can clearly see the sense of the strategy followed by Stacey Abrams. She also received significant support from metro Atlanta’s large LGBTQ population and organized labor. While she was cheated out of an electoral victory in 2018, Stacey Abrams showed democrats the path to victory. Her strategy will reap dividends in the long run for Democrats and for her, perhaps as early as 2022.
Stacey Abrams New Campaign Blueprint
Stacey Abrams proposed expanding the Democratic Party foundation in Georgia through an expansive voter sign up campaign and intensive voter mobilization made to drive up turnout. Her campaign committed to a field program of canvassing and telephone calling or phone banking procedures. Organized labor uses such a model. Don Green and Alan Gerber, among others, have also demonstrated how canvassing and live phone banking raises voter turnout. Their revised scientific approach is entitled, Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout.
New Base of Voters of Color
Abrams radically asserted a technique premised not on trying to woo back whites who had left the Democratic Party long ago, but focused on building a new base of voters of color, whose population in Georgia is growing. She challenged a practice among many white democratic operatives which totally frustrates African American campaign professionals as well as African American candidates and elected officials.
Invest Resources to Educate and Mobilize Black Voters
Democrats fail to dedicate the necessary resources to educating and mobilizing black voters. They take these voters for granted, assuming that they have no place else to go. The fallacy of that assumption is that sizable chunks of African American voters choose to stay home because the candidates don’t excite them and resources are invested to mobilize them around a public policy agenda which affects their daily lives.
Don’t Take Black Voters for Granted
Abrams was challenging the practice that political scientist Paul Frymer referred to.In Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America, Frymer argues that Democrats assume that they do not need to target campaign messages to African American voters because data present approximately 90 percent of these vote Democratic.
Stacey Abrams Sees The Power of Black Voters
Instead, Abrams viewed the diversity of the Democratic base in Georgia and argued that due to their solid Democratic voting behavior, blacks deserved additional campaign interest.
A Community No longer Overlooked
By focusing on African American, Latino, and Asian American outreach, Abrams turned the notion of electoral capture on its head, arguing that Democrats could yield more black votes if they campaigned in black communities.She saw the tens of thousands of young black voters who have historically been overlooked and ignored.She appealed to them. Even so, despite the hundreds of thousands of African Americans voters mobilized by Stacey,, the election showed that there are still many black votes left to be claimed in Georgia.
Stacey Grew the Electorate
Moreover, as a serious candidate of color, Abrams also challenged the idea that only centrist or conservative white individuals could come up with a formidable political advertising campaign coalition in Georgia. By growing the electorate through voter registration and taking painstaking treatment to remind brand-new and longstanding voters to carefully turn out to vote, Abrams earned more votes than previous Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
Stacey Out Performed Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn
Proportionally, Abrams earned slightly more support among white voters than Jason Carter, the last Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Thus, she outperformed her white Democratic predecessors using a wide-ranging and inclusive strategy. So, even though Abrams lost this election battle, she still won in many important ways.
To be certain, as a black woman, Abrams was subjected her to especially racist and bigoted attacks. Were it not for the voter suppression techniques and strategy used against her and African American voters, she would have won the race. All said and done, the Stacey Abrams electoral performance in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election shows that black candidates in the Deep South can run effective, highly competitive campaigns.
Democratic candidates still face challenges running in solidly Republican states, but Abrams has provided a template for showing how black Democrats can be competitive, and eventually win, even in parts of the Deep South.
As such, the results of the 2018 election demonstrate that the implied fears about nominating serious black prospects for statewide positions in the Deep South are misplaced. While party continues to be a disadvantage for just about any Democrat seeking office in Republican-leaning states, African American candidates for statewide office like Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum have displayed how they can navigate racial landmines and partisan disadvantages to run competitive races.
Instead of assuming that black candidates will under perform their white counterparts running for statewide office, perhaps we should focus our attention on rooting out institutional burdens that may make equal usage of the ballot more challenging.
Few black statewide elected officials
In general, despite the election of Barack Obama and the near proportional representation of blacks in the U.S. House of Representatives, blacks are underrepresented in statewide offices like governor, U.S. senator and state attorney general.
In the more than 150 years since Reconstruction, there have been only two elected black governors, 14 lieutenant governors, six elected U.S. senators and, until Election Day, four state lawyers general. On election evening, four African-Us citizens earned races to serve their claims as lawyer general and one African-American earned a lieutenant governor’s seat.
Scholars attribute area of the current disparity to demographics. While there are congressional districts with huge minority populations that have a history of electing black representatives, no state has a majority black populace that would likely do the same.
Because no state has a majority African-American populace, scholars and political analysts have opined about the chance that nonblack voters will be ready to vote for black applicants statewide.
Claims like Massachusetts and Virginia, that have larger light Democratic populations, possess elected African-American governors. However, it has been less inclined to happen in the Deep South, where racially polarized voting is usually more stark and gives the advantage to Republican, typically white, candidates.
For these reasons, African-American Democratic candidates for statewide office in Georgia, as in other parts of the Deep South, have often faced skepticism.
Sometimes, they have run as the sacrificial lamb applicant – the main one who has zero potential for winning, but works anyway to make sure Democratic representation on the ballot.
Other times, seasoned black candidates, such as former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, have chosen not to run for statewide office. They decided not to waste political capital on a race that would be hard for just about any Democrat to win.
Instead of willing dark candidates, Georgia Democrats have often nominated centrist white applicants such as for example Roy Barnes or Jason Carter. They wish such prospects will regain working course or suburban white voters who started leaving the party after the civil rights movement and 1st helped to deliver the governor’s mansion to the Republicans in 2002.
Usually, no matter their race, both the white and black Democratic candidates ended up losing.
In this context, Abrams offered a new path – one which did not pay back in this election, but will probably reap dividends over time.
A fresh campaign template?
Georgia Democratic gubernatorial applicant Stacey Abrams, left, shakes hands with a supporter as she leaves a rally, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Rincon, Ga. AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton
Abrams proposed expanding the Democratic Party bottom in Georgia through voter sign up and intensive voter mobilization made to drive up turnout.
Her campaign committed to canvassing and telephone banking procedures, taking to center the lessons imparted by scholars like Don Green and Alan Gerber, who demonstrated how canvassing and live telephone banking raises voter turnout.
Abrams radically asserted a strategy premised not on trying to woo back whites who had left the Democratic Party long ago, but focused on creating a new bottom of voters of color, whose people in Georgia keeps growing.
Abrams was challenging the practice that political scientist Paul Frymer known as Democratic “electoral catch.” Frymer argues that Democrats assume that they don’t have to target campaign text messages to dark voters because data display roughly 90 percent of them vote Democratic.
Instead, Abrams looked at the diversity of the Democratic base in Georgia and argued that because of their strong Democratic voting behavior, blacks deserved additional campaign attention.
A community no longer taken for granted
By focusing on minority outreach, Abrams turned the idea of electoral catch on its mind, arguing that Democrats could yield even more black votes if indeed they campaigned in dark communities.
Moreover, as a significant applicant of color, Abrams also challenged the theory that only centrist light individuals could come up with a formidable marketing campaign coalition in Georgia. By growing the electorate through voter sign up and taking painstaking treatment to remind fresh and longstanding voters to carefully turn out to vote, Abrams gained more votes than previous Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
. and Andrew Gillum opened up a whole new era of possibilities for African American candidates and voters in the South.