Hillary Clinton: You Got The Black Vote, Now Don't Blow It

Hillary Clinton: You Got The Black Vote, Now Don't Blow It

Older folks love her, but young people are skeptical.

Published February 29, 2016

Hillary Clinton is probably feeling pretty good right now. After a rocky few weeks that saw her lose more ground than expected to Senator Bernie Sanders and the inevitability of her nomination called into question, a decisive — if not downright overwhelming — victory in South Carolina has changed the narrative of her campaign. In the past couple of weeks, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) PAC, former Congressman and NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume and South Carolina representative Jim Clyburn all stated publicly that they're enthusiastically endorsing Hillary. On Saturday, Black voters in the Palmetto state co-signed her bid for the presidency. 

All clear signs that Hillary can ride the "Black vote" all the way to Super Tuesday, and indeed to the White House, right? Not necessarily. While the Black establishment and older Black folks with a lot of residual good will towards the Clinton name have spoken (loudly, to the tune of 96-3), the young Black voters still don't seem convinced. While Clinton did win the under-30 vote on Saturday, it was by a much narrower 56-43 margin.

Though their parents may be squarely and immovably in Clinton's camp, Black millenials are #FeelingtheBern more than ever. Many site the consistency of Sanders's message as the reason, while others believe the influence of Black artists and intellectuals — Killer Mike, Dr. Cornel West, Spike Lee and even an admittedly-reluctant Ta-Nehisi Coates — who have endorsed Sanders is tipping the balance.

We spoke to Ashley Williams, a 23-year-old graduate student from Fayetteville, N.C., who made waves last week for protesting Clinton from five feet away at her fundraiser in Charlotte, about what Williams's peers feel about the presumptive nominee. "I don't know a lot of people who support Hillary Clinton, that's the first thing that I have to say," was their response [Ed. note: Ashley asked to be identified using "they/them" pronouns]. "And that might be specific to whom I am surrounded by, which are people who are in the movement and communities of color who are not buying this."
After South Carolina, it's become even more clear that the fight for the "Black vote" is really two things: older, predominantly Southern Black folks for whom the Clinton name and brand still holds value, and young, urban Millienials who are "not buying this."

Indeed, neither Democratic candidate has given the Black community a compelling reason to rally as one. As Williams points out, Hillary is regarded as opportunistic and slippery with a spotty record on race (the 1994 Crime Bill, commonly believed to have kickstarted the era of mass incarceration, cannot be forgotten), while Sanders appears evasive and so focused on a class revolution that he has no time for a racial one. 

As the South Carolina primary proved, Hillary Clinton has one huge advantage over Sanders, and it's what will probably win her the Black vote (or at least enough of a majority of it): she's listening. 

Clinton is by no means a perfect candidate, but when it became clear that Blacks were not impressed by Sanders and weren't rushing to join his socialist-populist revolution, she examined why and retooled her message to reach out to more of us who aren't #FeelingtheBern. While Sanders is sticking to his one-size-fits-all revolution and trying to convince Black folks of it's "trickle down" effects, Clinton decided to use the opportunity to speak to us directly.

There was the visit to Flint, Michigan. Then, days before the Nevada caucus, a speech at a Harlem church which included this line: “We have to begin by facing up to the reality of systemic racism. Because these are not only problems of economic inequality. These are problems of racial inequality.”

And then, in her Nevada victory speech: “We also agree that Wall Street can never be allowed to threaten Main Street again … But, if we listen to the voices of Flint and Ferguson, if we open our hearts to the families of coal country and Indian country … it's clear there is so much more to be done.”

And while Sanders hightailed it out of South Carolina the moment he felt the tide turning in Clinton's favor (he didn't even stay to make a concession speech as Clinton did in New Hampshire), Clinton didn't take her polling numbers for granted. She stuck around in South Carolina, the state that cost her the candidacy in 2008, and tried to get our votes by any means necessary, even one at a time. 

Clinton may not be the perfect candidate. She may not inspire the kind of fervor we all felt for Obama or that white liberals feel for Sanders. But she knows what it feels like to lose the Black vote, and she'll be damned if she lets it happen again. But she can't stop now, and she can't give up on Black Millenials, whom she will need to carry her though Super Tuesday and to win the general election. In order to win over young Black voters, she'll need to continue her campaign of retail politics — one voter at a time, if necessary — as long as possible. She'll need to inspire young Black people to show up at the polls, the way Sanders is doing for white liberal voters.

She needs to win over people like Ashley Williams — who says she feels "really nervous about the way that she is ... meeting with Black families and trying to get the support of Black people" — by convincing them that her outreach to and engagement with the Black community won't disappear the moment the votes are cast in her favor.

While Sanders is seeming like less and less of a threat to Clinton winning the nomination, taking her South Carolina win for granted — particularly among young Black voters — could be a fatal mistake. 

(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Written by Evelyn Diaz


Latest in news