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Thursday, March 14, 2024

Opinion | Some Black Voters Are Souring on Democrats. It May Be Part of a Natural Drift. - The New York Times

Some Black Voters Are Souring on Democrats. It May Be Part of a Natural Drift.

A voter checks in at a voting center in Atlanta in 2022.
Damon Winter/The New York Times

“I almost voted for him,” Felicia Lowe, a 55-year-old Black woman, told me on Tuesday as she exited the polling place at the Metropolitan branch of the Fulton County Library.

The “him” in that statement is Donald Trump, and Lowe said that she had intended to vote for him the first time he ran for president, but she was diagnosed with cancer and didn’t vote that year.

Trump, she said, is “funny as hell.” Her granddaughter, impatiently waiting in her shadow, admonished her, “Nana, no cursing.”

Lowe says she’s glad that she didn’t vote for Trump back then because she now thinks “he’s trying to make the white America great, and we should all be included.”

“I’m a Biden person,” she said. “I’m a Democrat.” But she explained Trump’s appeal to people like her: “Trump used us, and at the same time bamboozled us by his charm and his humor and his straightforward talk. Not that it’s all true, but he just didn’t bite his tongue about certain things. And a lot of people want to see someone down to earth.”

To some, holding these two ideas at once — that Trump is “prejudiced,” as she put it, but still entertaining — may seem contradictory to the point of implausibility, but this is far from the first time I’ve heard this response. Whereas people like me find Trump’s performance of his persona repulsive, not everyone does. Some people are attracted to it.

Lowe’s outlook illustrates the complexity that some Black voters — even some Black supporters of President Biden — bring to this election and to their politics in general. And it’s these complexities that are striking fear in the hearts of some Democrats.

Tuesday’s primaries were anti-climactic. They were essentially uncontested for both Biden and Trump, who both clinched their party’s nominations. But in Georgia, I took the day as another opportunity to talk to — and better understand — Black voters, who will be pivotal in terms of how the state will swing in November.

First, it’s always important to note that Black women vote Democratic more than any other major demographic group, and second place goes to Black men — according to Pew Research, in 2020, 95 percent of Black women and 87 percent of Black men voted for Biden.

But going forward, those high levels of support aren’t guaranteed.

For Democrats, the fear isn’t that Black voters will begin to vote differently from other voters, but that they’ll begin to vote like other voters. Black support for Democrats almost certainly reached a high-water mark when Barack Obama ran for president and won in 2008. But since then, that support has been drifting back toward pre-Obama levels.

For me, the choice between Biden and Trump is black-and-white. It’s a choice between maintaining democracy and eroding it, between defending bodily autonomy and surrendering it, between racism and egalitarianism.

But I’m careful not to project my framing onto other Black people, careful not to assume that my priorities are theirs. Overall, the Black electorate still overwhelmingly supports Democrats, but like members of any other demographic, Black people have — and must be allowed to have — diverse views.

As with other groups of voters, one of the big issues that Black people frequently raise when discussing politics is economics — concerns about the high cost of everything from housing to groceries. And like other voters, Black voters remember the stimulus checks that went out in 2020 with Trump’s name on them; only people who are divorced from struggle fail to understand how unexpected money — even relatively small amounts of it — creates a lasting memory for those who are barely making it.

And there are Black voters who believe that the business environment was better under Trump than it is under Biden. Kevin Wesley, the Black owner of Eclectic Barbershop, told me, “I think Mr. Trump did a lot for the business community and ensuring that the entrepreneurs maintain stability to keep our community employed.”

On the economy, Biden has done a better job than he’s being given credit for, but he’s done a bad job of selling it. This stands in contrast to Trump’s constant credit-taking, sometimes for things he didn’t even do. As Clifford Albright, the executive director of the Black Voters Matter Fund, told me about Trump on Tuesday: “He does what con men do. He knows how to message.”

And there’s also the Black community’s relatively high religiosity that pushes some voters to resistance and others to resignation. Marius Mitchell, a 46-year-old father of two, told me weeks ago that he and his friends are leaning away from Biden and Democrats because of their embrace of L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Geannie Shelton, 85, who said she supported Biden, believes that whoever wins will simply be part of God’s plan and message and that God is mad because we have lost our way. “So something has to stir up the people,” she said, and “Trump is stirring up the people.”

Then there are the issues specific to this election cycle like the war in Gaza and concerns about the candidates’ ages and competence — although in Georgia, I registered less worry about those issues than I had in other states that I’ve traveled to in recent weeks.

To be sure, I encountered enthusiastic Black Biden voters in Atlanta, but I’ve been struck by how soft support for the president is among many Black voters and how few spoke of the possibility of a second Trump presidency in apocalyptic terms.

Like many others, I used to believe that Black defections from the Democratic Party, incremental as they are, were solely the manifestation of a failure of messaging and constituency caretaking. But I’m coming to see some of this as a natural drift that inches Black people closer to the patterns of other racial and ethnic groups.

Charles M. Blow is an Opinion columnist for The New York Times, writing about national politics, public opinion and social justice, with a focus on racial equality and L.G.B.T.Q. rights. @CharlesMBlow  Facebook"

Opinion | Some Black Voters Are Souring on Democrats. It May Be Part of a Natural Drift. - The New York Times

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