Black Voters Matter

In June, Steve penned a piece in The Nation, Are Black Voters Invisible to Democrats?” His answer was an unsettling, yes. He described $200 million in announced spending by progressive organizations, where none had been dedicated to African American voter turnout. Negative TV ads, aimed at a relatively small population of swing voters, were slated to receive the bulk of the funds. A look at the graphic in the article will quickly show you the funding imbalance.

The article ignited a conversation and, fortunately, progress.  By early July, NEA Executive Director John Stocks helped Steve convened the major independent organizations to begin to get an overview and clarity around who was doing what in terms of Black voter mobilization.  As a result of those conversations, more than $20 million is slated for African American registration and mobilization in several strategic states.  

The importance of this work to winning this election cycle was described by Marvin Randolph, President of the Southern Elections Fund and the country’s leading expert in Black voter mobilization and the architect of the NAACP’s 2012 program that registered nearly 400,000 Black voters.  “We call it The Gap,” described Randolph of SEF. “It’s the difference between Black voter turnout when Obama is on the ticket, versus when he’s not”. The difference is about one million voters. As Randolph explains, “It takes about $12-$18 to register a Black voter, and around $8-$12, to turn that voter out. That’s roughly $30 per vote, and that’s significantly less than what it takes to turn out a swing voter.”

While $20 million for Black voter work is significantly more than $0, it’s still short of what a truly data-driven investment portfolio should look like.  African Americans, 90% of whom vote Democratic, are among the most valuable resources for the progressive movement, and they make up 23% of all Democratic voters (more than white men in 2012).  An optimal portfolio would allocate more than 20% of its funds to that precious resource. Since Democrats will spend close to $2 billion this cycle the optimal number for reaching Black voters would be closer to $400 million than to the $20 million identified so far. (Note: This $20 million only includes amounts coming from entities independent of Democratic candidate’s campaigns, so the total number is will ultimately be larger, but the above numbers give a sense of the order of magnitudes involved.)  Significantly increasing these investments needs to be a top priority of the progressive movement going forward.