How Bernie Sanders Can Win the Black Vote in South Carolina and Beyond

He has the platform, but it's all about communicating it.

If we know anything about Bernie Sanders’ campaigning prowess it’s that he can make up ground quickly. And there’s no better candidate to do that against than Hillary Clinton, whose approval or favorability numbers have never strengthened after announcing a candidacy bid for any public office. That said, the Clintons have generally high popularity numbers with African Americans and it’s going to be an uphill climb once again for Sanders to capture a large swath of that support.

With the Nevada Caucuses just eight days away and South Carolina Primaries only 15, Bernie has his work cut out for him. Luckily for him it seems like more and more black support, especially young, seems to be turning more and more in his favor. At the same time, Clinton just picked up an endorsement from the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, and it’s likely she’ll pick up the support of President Obama eventually, whose accomplishments she heavily touted in the Friday’s (February 11) Democratic debate.

While it may be a little outdated, a December poll by YouGov of South Carolina Democrats showed that African Americans heavily favored Clinton at almost 4 to 1. Nationally, a recent Fox News poll showed a 71 percent support figure among non-whites for Clinton compared to just 20 for Sanders. Barack Obama carried South Carolina in 2008 with 80 percent of the black vote and while that number may not be entirely necessary to hit in order to win the state, Bernie can’t have Hillary attaining a statistic near that, especially as they’re mostly split among whites in the state.

No turn around in presidential politics so far would be as big as if Bernie Sanders were able to cut 20 to 30 percent off of Clinton’s lead among African Americans in the state. That effort has already begun and for it to be even more effective, here are a few ways he can better gain the black vote in South Carolina and beyond.

Circulate pictures documenting Sanders' involvement in CORE and SNCC

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in Sanders’ case, it may be worth a lot more in votes. It’s pretty well known that, as a student at the University of Chicago, Bernie marched with Martin Luther King Jr. on Washington but fewer know he was an organizing member of CORE and later SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) during his time there. As an organizer Sanders fought for desegregated housing in the Windy City and was arrested while protesting those practices in the 1960s.

Bernie’s advertising has already been stellar when it comes to his past stances on issues and his social media game is on point with that. Last month, his campaign unearthed a photo of Hillary Clinton praising their candidate for his dedication to the fight for universal healthcare. Why not do the same thing with a flick already seen by some but not all?

Better highlight stances he’s already taken favoring urban communities

When you hear Bernie Sanders speak his first go-tos are railing against Wall St., single-payer healthcare and campaign finance reform. Perhaps even more noticeable though are his ideas on policy directly affecting urban communities. Last October, Sanders introduced the idea of “postal-banking” which would allow poorer communities largely rid of banks to access financial services more highly regulated than those of a payday lender or other institutions that charge high fees for simple access to cash flow. While it would be new to the United States, postal banking is already available in Japan, Germany, India and Korea, among other countries.

Sanders is also the most staunch on criminal justice reform, which includes his calling for automatic federal investigations for anyone who dies in police custody. He’s also called for the federal legalization of marijuana, taken a hardline stance against private prisons and believes the so-called “war on drugs” is and has been a failure.

Relay his already extensive list of meetings with top black leaders in America

Numerous times just in the past year Bernie Sanders has met with black leaders to hear their solutions for improving conditions in their communities. In December, Sanders met with a plethora of black leaders in Baltimore behind closed doors, including Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant and Rev. Donté L. Hickman who both were heavily influential in the city after Freddie Gray’s death. He’s also spent a lot of time with Ohio Senator Nina Turner, Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and Dr. Cornel West who’ve already pledged their allegiance to him and even helped him campaign.

Perhaps most interesting was Bernie Sanders’ visits to numerous HBCUs and previous support for a shift in Pell grant funding from a focus largely on predominately white state or private institutions to HBCUs, who don’t see as much in scholarship funding from federal programs.

Keep trotting out Killer Mike at rallies

Capturing the black vote – like any other vote – starts with igniting younger voters. Killer Mike could do just that. As one of hip hop music’s most politically conscious thinkers Mike could reassure those – especially in the south – that Bernie is the candidate with policies most beneficial to black voters and also, has a history of fighting for equal rights for all minorities. The Atlanta native has a long rap sheet (pun intended) of mistrusting the government, so when he supports someone who wants to expand government’s role in everyone’s life, it’s worth noting.

Change his messaging

This is most important of all. Bernie Sanders will not make up enough ground in states with a predominantly African American Democratic majority if he doesn’t communicate his beliefs correctly. It’s all well and good that he wants to reform Wall Street and lord knows minorities were some of the most affected when it came to the mortgage/financial crash of 2007/2008, but most black issues need to be handled as such. When Sanders gripes about African American youth unemployment, his solutions need to include voice with a catered plan to address that crisis. Urban poverty is different from any other, and vice versa.

On the issues of police brutality and the prison industrial complex much more than a wink and a nod needs to be presented. In the past Senator Sanders has acknowledged that blacks and Latinos are jailed in disproportionate numbers but an attempt to close private prisons isn’t enough when stifling the cause of why those groups are put there in the first place. An outreach to groups like Black Lives Matter could also go a long way in helping Sanders, whose only real vivid connection with the group is when they interrupted him multiple times during speaking events last summer.

Paul Meara is a Columbus, Ohio native and resident and has written for Billboard, Complex and HipHopDX, among others. Follow him on Twitter: @PaulMeara

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks. 

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(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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