A new report is shedding insight into the political beliefs and aspirations of more than 31,000 Black voters as the nation prepares for the 2020 elections.
Alicia Garza, who co-founded the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 and is now a principal with the Black Futures Lab, released a report titled “More Black Than Blue: Politics + Power in the 2019 Black Census.”
It’s the first in a series of reports billed as the largest survey of Black people conducted in the United States since Reconstruction. The document was published in partnership with Color of Change, Demos, and Socioanalítica Research.
The Black Census Project (not to be confused with the U.S. Census), launched in early 2018 with an ambitious agenda to poll tens of thousands of diverse Black people. Respondents include voices not always represented in traditional survey methodologies, including LGBTQ people, currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, Black immigrants, the homeless, Black conservatives, and mixed race people with a Black parent.
The report showed that respondents were strongly aligned with key Democratic policy priorities, such as closing significant gaps in quality of life through a living wage, quality public education, and healthcare. But the findings also showed that sentiment does not translate to immediate, robust support for the party or certain candidates.
To put it bluntly, more than half of Black Census respondents said politicians do not care about Black people.
BET recently spoke with Alicia Garza by phone. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
BET: Why this report and why now?
Alicia Garza: I’m still shaken by the outcomes of the 2016 election. And one of the things that was really challenging for me, particularly during that process was certainly that once again we saw not only the misalignment or the attacks on the growing movement to make Black Lives Matter, but at the same time we were seeing a real lack of deep and honest and meaningful engagement with Black communities who had been in an uproar for several years at that point about the conditions in our communities. And oftentimes I would say to candidates and to people who inquired, Black people deserve the things that all people deserve and frankly we are being shortchanged by seeing candidates who want our votes on talk shows but not having them convene town halls on issues that are important to us.
BET: The press release about the report had a quote in which you noted the playbook for reaching Black voters is sometimes insincere, even embarrassing?
AG: Oftentimes I would feel like [candidates and consultants] would be like `Yeah, yeah, whatever, this is how we always engage Black voters.’ And really made a lot of assumptions that Black voters were going to go along to get along no matter what. And if 2016 wasn’t the rude awakening that people needed, I don’t know what is.
I want a candidate that can not only engage and inspire Black communities—even though Black communities turned out in force in 2016 it was certainly lower than the previous elections. So for me this project and the Black Futures Lab as a whole is really an extension of the last five years of organizing and mobilizing and protesting. And what I know and what we know is that Black communities deserve to be powerful in politics. Our job with the Black Census project and certainly with the Black Futures Lab is to make sure that Black communities have the tools that we need to be powerful in every aspect of our lives, making politics no exception.
BET: You have many collaborators on this nationwide.
AG: So we decided that this would be a project that we hoped would contribute to a larger movement. And we conspired with Color of Change, Demos and Socioanalítica Research — these powerhouse organizations — and also collaborated with more than 30 grassroots organizations, such as PushBlack, across the nation to reach Black communities who are often marginalized.
One, we wanted people to understand that Black communities are complex. At any holiday gathering you see this. We got our bougie cousins, cousins in the hood, the Black Power uncle, we have a wide span of identities and experiences. If political campaigns are engaging Black people as they are [currently doing], they cannot hope to be successful.
Look: when are [candidates] gonna move past this fried chicken dinner symbol and leave the hot sauce alone and get on with the point? Black people don’t care if you have hot sauce in your purse. We care about our issues. How can we sustain a family; we care about having access to affordable health care. We care about making sure that we have access to education and can send our kids to college. Let’s actually deal with the issues that Black folks are being impacted by.
BET: What’s next?
AG: Our subsequent reports — one is forthcoming in June — will look at issues from the perspective of the LGBT community, gender and millennials.
Here [https://blackfutureslab.org/black-census-project-2/] are other key findings from the report:
Low wages are considered the most pressing among Black Census respondents, with 90% viewing it as a problem, including 85% who consider it a major problem.
More than three-quarters support increasing taxes on individuals earning $250,000 or more.
Nearly half (48%) report living in a household that lacked enough funds to pay a monthly bill in the last 12 months and 31% cut back on food to save money.
Political & Civic Engagement:
73% of respondents report voting in 2016 and a third (34%) of respondents also report engaging in other electoral activity, i.e. fundraising, volunteering, and/or canvassing.
Despite the notable level of electoral participation, 52% of respondents say “politicians do not care about Black people and interests.”
62% of Black Census respondents have a favorable view of the Democratic Party (compared to just 6% with a favorable view of the Republican Party), but a fifth of respondents have an unfavorable view towards the Democratic Party.
87% of respondents consider police officers killing Black people a problem in the community; additionally, 84% percent say that police officers not being held accountable for their crimes is a problem.
More than half (55%) of respondents have personally had a negative interaction with the police at some point, and 28% of those describing a negative encounter with police in the last 6 months.
81% strongly support Black Lives Matter, which is about the same rating as former President Barack Obama.
73% of Black Census respondents believe community-police relations can be improved if police are held accountable for their misconduct.
84% support restoring voting rights of formerly incarcerated people while 63% strongly support it.
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images