If the Democrats hold on to control of the U.S. Senate in November, it will largely be because of the support of African-American voters, according to a vitally important analysis by the New York Times.
The article by writer Nate Cohn says that African-American voters in the South could play the most important role they’ve played in a national election since Reconstruction.
“If Democrats win this November, Black voters will probably represent a larger share of the winning party’s supporters in important states than at any time since Reconstruction,” the story says. “Their influence is not just a product of the Senate map. It also reflects the collapse in Southern white support for Democrats, an increase in Black turnout and the reversal of a century-long trend of Black outmigration from the South.”
Cohn presents a bit of a history lesson along with his analysis, explaining that because so many Blacks were disenfranchised in the past by Jim Crow and because there was still a substantial number of white Democratic voters in the South—known as Dixiecrats—the impact of African-American voters was minimized. But that is no longer the case.
“White voters who came of age as loyal Democrats have largely died off, while the vast majority of Black voters have been able to vote for their entire adult lives — and many have developed the habit of doing so,” Cohn writes.
Cohn calls this “generational replacement,” and says it has transformed voting patterns in the South, where Blacks “will most likely represent more than half of all Democratic voters in Louisiana and Georgia, and nearly half in North Carolina. Arkansas, another state with a large Black population, is also among the competitive states.”
There have been a few elections since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act when Blacks proved pivotal, according to the Times, such as Jimmy Carter’s presidential win in 1976; Mary Landrieu’s Senate wins in Louisiana in 2002 and 2008; and Barack Obama’s capture of North Carolina’s electoral votes in 2008, when nearly half of his supporters in the state were Black.
Because whites are now so overwhelmingly Republican in the South—Obama won just 15 percent of white votes in the Deep South in 2012—Democrats must rely on Blacks if they are going to have any success. They are buoyed the fact that Southern Black voter turnout—which lagged for decades—now rivals and sometimes exceeds that of white voters.
The Times reports Black turnout in the South had been increasing even before the historic ascendancy of Obama. And while Republican state legislatures in Southern states like North Carolina have passed laws requiring voter IDs, and cut down measures such as early voting, which is used disproportionately by Blacks, their aggression appears to have the effect of actually mobilizing African-Americans to vote in even greater numbers.
While Blacks were fleeing the South throughout much of the 20th century to escape racism there, that trend ended with a new generation of Blacks moving back. The South was home to about 90 percent of the nation’s African-Americans until the beginning of the 20th century, according to the Times. But by 1970, the number of Blacks in the South had dropped to 53 percent because so many had fled.
Now, 57 percent of Black Americans live in the South—and more than one million Black Southerners today were born in the Northeast, according to the Times.
In Georgia, where Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of the former longtime conservative Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, is running for the open Senate seat, analysts say she has a shot only because the share of registered voters in Georgia who are white has dropped to 59 percent, from 72 percent in 2000. The Times predicts Nunn could win Georgia even with less than a third of white voters—”a tally that would have ensured defeat for Democrats just a few years ago.”
But what the Times story doesn’t address is how the Black community might benefit from now holding such pivotal political weight. If Democrats are now dependent on the Black community to hold onto the Senate, will Blacks start seeing more political and economic largesse flowing from Washington?
The African-American community should be applying constant pressure on the Democratic Party to make sure that happens.