Bernie Sanders And The Struggle For The Black Vote

February 5, 2016  |  

Bernie Sanders Netroots


In spite of an impressive showing during the Iowa caucus earlier this week, Democratic nominee candidate Bernie Sanders is still struggling to make headway among a very important voting block, which might be the determining factor in helping him land the nomination.

Most polls suggest that the senator from Vermont will continue to do well in New Hampshire. However many polls also suggest that Sanders’ real test will begin in South Carolina, where Black voters, in particular, will help to determine the primaries in that state. Likewise, the primaries will only get harder to win ( or even tie) as his campaign moves into states with a lot more diverse electorates.

According to poll numbers released yesterday by Public Policy Polling, although Sanders is gaining traction among usual voters, Hillary Clinton is still maintaining a commanding lead with 53 percent of the vote. This is compared to Sanders who is only polling at 32 percent of the vote.

A huge part of why Sanders is trailing so badly behind Clinton is that he has yet to connect with African American voters. According to PPP, only 27 percent of African American voters surveyed, have a favorable view of Sanders. Likewise only 8 percent said that they are planning to vote for him in the primaries. This is compared to 82 percent of African American voters who said they will be casting their ballots for Clinton.

Surprisingly, while only 27 percent views Black voters see Sanders as favorable, only 23 percent have unfavorable views of him.

As such:

That does suggest some possibility for Sanders to improve his position- part of his problem is just that black voters don’t really know him yet- but he’s starting at a tremendous disadvantage that will make the upcoming run of Southern primaries very difficult for him. “Bernie Sanders continues to make in roads with most segments of the Democratic electorate,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “But his continued struggles with African Americans could give him a lot of trouble when the contest moves beyond New Hampshire to states where there’s racial diversity.”

But Sanders’ problems are not just among the general African American voters bloc. Overall women voters are pretty hesitant about the senator, with only 25 percent saying that they would vote for him in the democratic primaries. This is compared to 42 percent of men.

What makes this especially notable is that Black women voters are a huge and powerful voting bloc on their own. And as reported by the Washington Post in 2014:

Black women make up the most dynamic segment of the Rising American Electorate. In the past two Presidential elections, Black women led all demographic groups in voter turnout. And even without President Obama on the ballot, in the recent pivotal Virginia gubernatorial election, Black women once again exceeded all other groups in turning out on Election Day. As such, Black women were a key factor in turning Virginia Blue heading into the 2014 mid-term elections.”

What that means is that, in spite of good showings in more homogeneously White communities and among White people in general, Sanders just can’t win without the Black vote, particularly Black women voters.

Perhaps it is just a matter of folks getting to know him more? After all, Sanders is running a campaign that seeks to address income inequality in this country and that should appeal to Black voters – in particular Black women which as a group, continue to be some of the most economically exploited and vulnerable people in this country.

However among his critics are those who point out how Sanders’ class-centered policies do not outright speak to how race factors into inequality in America. After all, officials did not just ignore the undrinkable water in Flint just because the people were poor. Likewise, a $15 minimum wage will not help you if you are being discriminated against and deterred from the job in the first place.

But if it is just a matter of Black voters getting to know him more, we have to wonder about why Sanders is not working overtime to make that happen?

Despite picking up some major Black endorsements this week, including three from prominent leaders in South Carolina as well as an endorsement from former NAACP president Ben Jealous, Sanders is trailing Clinton 62 percent to 32.5 percent in state polls.

While on the other side of the democratic campaign, Clinton has dispatched more than 170 Black leaders and entertainers into South Carolina (as well as other parts of the South) to ensure her lead remains intact. No doubt this is pandering. But perhaps it is a strategy that Sanders’ teams should look into exploring, especially since name-recognition continues to be problem.

As whatever they are doing, is just not working.

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