Editor’s Note: This post was written by Kevin Callanan, Cody Ingraham, and Emily Radigan.
Is voting in the Democratic Party really black and white? The minority vote has been a hot topic in the nomination race as Hillary Clinton has dominated diverse demographics nationwide. Her success has been attributed to Southern and urban populations, as well as relationships forged during Bill Clinton’s campaign. In every contest, Clinton has dominated the minority vote, which has become a defining difference between her and Bernie Sanders. Clinton has her detractors among black community elites but is widely supported in other areas. While minority voters have carried her a long way, will they be enough to get Hillary into the White House?
Why has the minority vote flocked to Hillary? It seems that a good amount of her support has come from 90’s die-hards who still remember Bill Clinton as the “first black president.” This was mentioned in Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign when comparing him to Barack Obama. Fond memories of the Clintons haven’t been the only agent used to gain an advantage; Hillary’s been praised for having the most diverse staff, representing the diversity of the voters she is running for. Her ads have also been notably diverse in the people she represents. When Hillary announced her candidacy last April, her announcement video featured a very diverse group of people with diverse stories intended to humanize her campaign and message.
In states with large minority populations, Clinton has overwhelmingly won the minority vote, propelling her to victory. In many states, a substantial part of her core supporters have been black voters. In the March 15th primaries, Clinton continued this trend, earning 81% of the black vote in Florida, and over 60% in all other primaries that day.
South Carolina, the first predominantly black primary, showed solid support as 74% of the state voted “with her.” Clinton’s key to victory was centered on her outreach to minority communities, especially towards African-Americans. She captured 86% of the black community during the primary, even more than Obama, who won the state that cycle, in 2008. Many African-Americans feel affection for the Clintons, because of their long relationship with the community for years. Much of the black community sees Hillary as an heir to the Obama legacy, as she has served as his Secretary of State and has pledged to continue his policies. What is very telling about this campaign cycle and may be leading to many of Clinton’s primary wins, especially in Southern states, is that her base has transitioned from white, working class voters to African-Americans as her strongest constituency. This support and feeling of bonding have helped Clinton carry the Southern Contests, bringing her to a delegate lead that many now characterize as insurmountable.
While Clinton has received wide support from the black population, many high profile black activists and intellectuals have rebuked her. Michelle Alexander has claimed that “Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve the black vote” because of many of her previous positions. These include her support for a crime bill in 1994 and welfare spending cuts in 1996 as First Lady. Ta-Nehisi Coates has decried Clinton as perpetuating racist versions of history. However, these are not endorsements of Sanders and similar critiques of Sanders exist. There are other prominent black community members who have given a decisive endorsement. Harry Belafonte, a controversial civil rights activist, has endorsed Sanders and stated that Sanders offers a refreshing truth in politics. Cornel West, a prominent black scholar, has also endorsed Sanders, as he is more committed to the plight of poor black Americans. The mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, men whose deaths partly inspired the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement, have also endorsed and supported Clinton, citing Clinton’s strong stances on gun control. The actual Black Lives Matter movement has had a different relationship with Clinton. Other activists involved in Black Lives Matter want Clinton to apologize for previous racist remarks and want her to stop “pimping black votes.”
There is a divide between black Democratic Party elites and the black intellectual community. Many of the black members of the Democratic Party have endorsed Clinton, including the Congressional Black Caucus PAC. This is thought to have some influence on black voters, especially as the endorsement is policy focused. G.K. Butterfield, the chairman of the CBC, endorsed Clinton, claiming that she would best help African-American interests. Gregory Meeks has also endorsed Clinton, having stated her record demonstrates strong support for the African-American community. Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Representative, has endorsed Clinton and expressed confidence in her foreign policy experience. This may have helped her with her sweeping South Carolina win. Many other black Democratic Party elites have also endorsed Clinton.
Clinton has a problem with white male voters. They are, though not by a huge margin, voting for Sanders in many of the Democratic primaries and caucuses this cycle. This support of Bernie and simultaneous anti-Hillary sentiment this campaign cycle is puzzling, especially considering that Clinton’s 2008 primary base was, in fact, working class white men. These white men didn’t fully trust Barack Obama, who was supported by more educated liberals, and voted for the more conservative Clinton. Now, she still may not be able to close the gap among white men, but this should not have a profound effect on the general election due to changing demographics among voters.
In short, the Clintons’ long relationship with the black community and other minorities has played well for her 2016 Campaign. She has overcome detractions from some within the community, especially among intellectuals. Her support among African-Americans helped her campaign recover after a rocky start in predominantly white states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Her overwhelming victories in the heavily black South have secured the delegates to make her nomination inevitable. Hillary has some thank you letters to send out to minority voters.