What is DemocracyinColor.org?

Democracy in Color is a project of PowerPAC Plus, created to collect and share data on how the most highly resourced Democratic campaigns and committees engage people of color. Rooted in quantitative and qualitative analysis of campaign operations, it is an effort to engage interested progressives on how to invest their time and financial resources - while holding major party campaigns accountable to engaging voters of color. The initiative is led by Steve Phillips, author of the New York Times bestseller Brown Is the New White, and Jessica Byrd serves as Campaign Director. A team of political experts conducted the research and evaluation.

What are Democracy in Color’s Fannie Lou Hamer Report Cards?

The Fannie Lou Hamer Report Cards evaluate the performance of campaigns and Democratic Party committees in engaging, investing, and turning out voters of color. The unprecedented effort to bring the kind of transparent data reporting to campaigns that donors routinely receive in business was launched by Susan Sandler, a board member of the Democracy Alliance; and Steve Phillips the author of the NY Times bestseller Brown is the New White and co-founder of PowerPac+.

In pursuit of a Democratic majority in the United States Senate, the report cards cover key Senate toss-up races as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Why did you create this effort?

Many Democrats have been talking to campaign officials for years about more meaningful engagement with voters of color, using more culturally competent staff and consultants and making significant investments in that engagement -- too often with little resulting change. The 2008 and 2012 Obama for President campaigns laid out the pathway to victory based on America’s new demographic reality, yet there was a significant dropoff in Democratic turnout in 2010 and 2014 when Barack Obama was not on the ballot. However, there are outlier campaigns in 2010 and 2014 that show when candidates are serious about engaging voters of color they can win without Barack Obama at the top of the ticket.

We released these report cards to add comprehensive data analysis to the toolset campaign observers, activists and donors can use to evaluate the likelihood of victory for Democratic campaigns.

What themes emerged from the overall set of report cards?

  • Campaigns are factoring in voters of color at much lower percentages than the proportion of voters of color that vote Democrat, a dramatic difference in a number of states.

  • Community groups perceived almost every campaign as NOT taking strong stands on the issues that affect people of color, risking turnout performance of key voting groups.

  • Many campaigns had racially diverse senior staff, but few culturally competent consultants whose participation would help yield more effective polling, media, etc. in these communities.

  • State coordinated campaigns are routinely responsible for field campaigns targeting voters of color. These campaigns are ripe targets for future report cards.   

Why did you only focus on Democrats?

Voters of color are the backbone of the Democratic Party. They deserve policy messaging and messengers who care about them - and candidates that invest seriously in their voting communities.

Besides for nearly 50 years, Republicans have pursued an electoral strategy based on fostering racial resentment (and now those chickens are coming home to roost with the Trump campaign).  If and when they start championing racial justice instead of racial resentment, we’d be happy to turn our attention to them.

Why go public? Aren’t you afraid of hurting Democrats who receive poor grades?

In almost all aspects of life, transparency promotes positive changes.  Much of this data is publicly available through Federal Elections Commission reports anyway.

We want Democrats to win.  We know that 46% of the Obama voter coalition were people of color. We have to maintain this level of engagement in order to win. Donors and volunteers for Democratic campaigns deserve more information about whether their money is being used in the most effective and intelligent fashion.

The communities that we hope Democrats will target are at risk of staying home, not at risk of voting for Republicans.  This effort is designed to help Democratic campaigns and committees make the decisions necessary to winning this cycle.  We are quite concerned that without some course corrections Democrats greatly increase their risk of losing.

What Democratic Senate campaigns do is  also important to candidates down ballot from the top of the ticket. They need more people of color to show up to increase their chances at victory. The messages that target those voters from the Presidential and Senate campaigns will help state and local candidates.

Lots of people have tried to have this conversation and move Democratic campaigns to take outreach to these voters seriously for years. Maybe a focused, public conversation will spur more action.

Can Republicans use these report cards to hurt Democrats?
There is a risk that some Republicans might take the report card components with lower ratings and use them to attack Democrats.  The damage that Republicans might do by saying that a Democratic candidate is bad for people of color is far outweighed by the damage a Democratic campaign can do to itself  if it under-invests in reaching people of color.  Campaigns have time to effectively reach people of color in this cycle and these report cards are a tool to help them do that.

If a campaign gets a high score, does that mean they will win, and if they get a low score, will they lose?

Of course there are other factors that affect a campaign’s success, so while this factor is a very important one that needs more attention to increase the odds of Democrats winning, it is not the sole factor in determining a campaign’s success.

Effectively engaging voters of color contributes significantly to a campaign’s success.  This is one of the areas that campaigns tend to overlook and under-emphasize.  

Which community groups did you talk to to get input for the report cards?

We confidentially talked to key organizations and leaders involved in civic engagement of people of color in each state.  

How did you arrive at these grades?

The methodology is distilled from the latest research, analysis, and evidence about what works in winning elections in a multi-racial electorate.  It draws from studies conducted over the past 20 years and input from data experts, political scientists, and campaign operatives.

The report cards are based on four types of data:

  • Data about the state context. What’s been happening in each state’s elections, voting patterns and participation rates; and the likely impact of Democratic presidential campaign spending.  

  • Input from the campaign or committee being reported on. Input was gathered through a questionnaire and interviews with campaign or committee staff in leadership positions.

  • Federal Elections Commission Reports.  

  • Input from civic engagement groups.  Groups  were interviewed about Senate candidates’ policy platforms and level of presence in communities of color.

This is version 1.0 of this report card process.  The methodology will improve as more people get involved in this discussion.  The current ratings are not the definitive last word on each campaign.  However, it is critical to begin a conversation about how campaigns are doing at reaching constituencies that have typically been under-invested in but are strategic to success. These report cards are an important and useful tool in feeding that conversation.

Why just people of color?  What about LGBT, women, youth, the disabled and veterans, for example?

This report card is about winning elections to get the political power to eradicate all forms of discrimination and inequality.  It’s not a value statement about which groups are more or less important.  Strictly from an electoral standpoint, maximizing the participation of voters of color is the best and quickest path to gaining the power necessary to improve society.

We believe in an inclusive democracy that is responsive to the specific contexts of all people and that is respectful of different identities and life situations.  To pursue such a Democracy, electoral campaigns must invest more in voters who  lean  progressive and who are under-represented in elections.  These voters are critical to achieving an inclusive democracy.   People of color are a key constituency that has high proportions of voters that lean progressive and are under-represented in elections.

What's next?  How far does this go?  Will you encourage donors to boycott campaigns with low scores?

The first step is to bring the best practices of transparency and accountability to Democratic campaigns.  We think that this first step will improve the culture and prompt positive behavioral changes.  We are also engaging the Democratic donor community, and those conversations will include exploration of next steps if things don’t improve.  

Donors have a number of options to contribute to positive change.  They have important standing to have conversations with campaigns and committees.  They can have important conversations with campaigns with low scores.  They may decide to delay giving to a campaign in order to see if that campaign makes improvements.  They may use the information to make their investments in the campaigns that seem to have the best strategy.

Campaign volunteers, interested community organizations, and activists can also use these report cards to initiate dialogue with campaigns.

What can others do to support this cause?

Join our call to action!  Join us by visiting www.democracyincolor.org and add your name. We will make sure you are the first to know about new report cards and our progress in creating the inclusive Democratic Party we need.