Black Voters Have Won a Seat at the Table
From voter registration, to grassroots organizing, to shaping the issue environment across the country, Black voters are flexing political muscle up and down the ballot
Black voters have spoken. Across the country, from the industrial midwest to the Northeast to the deep south, Black votes were decisive in outcomes up and down the ballot — including to deliver the White House to Joe Biden.
After years of the political establishment sidelining Black voices and discounting Black political power, the message is now clear: Black voters showed up to vote for change. Our votes matter.
Groups like the New Georgia Project, POWER Interfaith in Pennsylvania, Detroit Action, and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities in Wisconsin have spent years organizing in their communities to bring new voters into the process and inspire infrequent voters to show up for themselves and for each other. Despite Covid-19, voter suppression, and misinformation online, Black voters, young and old, made the difference:
In Wayne County, Michigan (which includes Detroit), Black turnout during early voting was at 60.6 percent of 2016 turnout levels — more than three times the early vote in 2016. Of those Black early voters, 30 percent were new and infrequent voters. Biden won Detroit 233,908 to Trump’s 12,654. That is 93.4% of the vote to Trump’s 5%, better than Biden performed with almost any voters anywhere. Voter turnout in Wayne County was 59.49% in 2012, 58.6% in 2016 and 61.68% in 2020. That is an increase of 89,571 votes over 2016.
According to the most recent TargetSmart data, Black youth turnout (18-29) in metro Atlanta (Fulton, Dekalb, Cobb, Clayton, Rockdale) was 94% of 2016 totals before Election Day and 90% of Black youth voted for Biden.
In Pennsylvania, 200,733 more Black voters cast their ballots early as compared to 2016, making their share of the early vote six times that of what it was four years prior. Nearly 30 percent of the Black people that voted early were first-time or infrequent voters.
According to CNBC, a critical piece of Biden’s win was a surge in turnout in increasingly diverse Milwaukee County, where Biden increased Clinton’s vote to gain roughly 20,000 net votes (69% versus 66% of the vote). 8 in 10 Milwaukee County voters cast ballots for Biden. He captured 194,646 out of 242,859 total votes there, almost ten times the final margin of 20,000 votes.
“Now is the time for the real work to begin, and communities of color must be at the table—not an afterthought, because we are more than our vote,” said Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project. The New Georgia Project and its allies have registered 800,000 people to vote since 2018 and 49% of them are people of color.
“The days of campaigns parachuting into Black neighborhoods at the last minute and handing out street money to boost turnout are over,” said Bishop Dwayne Royster, Interim Executive Director of POWER Interfaith. “Our polling and experience told us that many young Black voters are more motivated to vote by issues like police brutality than the top of the ticket.”
“This year, Detroit Action mobilized 20,000 first time voters in Detroit. We not only registered voters, but listened to them about the problems they see in their communities and developed strategies — together — about how to address them. We talked to community members about what is at stake in elections and helped connect the dots to help folks move from cynicism to hope to action. We connected voting not just to candidates, but — more often — to tangible wins that can happen through voting,” said Branden Snyder of Detroit Action.
“This record setting turnout is not the result of late-cycle investments by political parties or candidates. And it can’t simply be seen as the natural outcome of effective voter registration efforts. Instead, this outcome is the result of years of work by Black grassroots organizing groups to center the hopes and dreams of Black people in their work to build power to impact electoral outcomes and move an agenda. It is the result of hard and inspiring work to more deeply connect Black people to their political power and provide them with a political home that helps turn woke into winning,” said Angela Lang of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities in Wisconsin.
Black organizations in a number of states were key players in the work to pass Amendment 2 to raise the minimum wage in Florida, and Question 3 in Philadelphia to create a Citizens Oversight Board for police. Moving forward, Black voters will continue to set our sights high, including with a policy agenda for the newly elected national leadership and for state governments. In solidarity with White, Latinx, Indigienous, and AAPI voters across the country, we will help build a better America for all of us.
The Democracy and Power Innovation Fund, hosted by the Rockefeller Family Fund, is supporting civic engagement programs in communities of color in 13 states and researching and analyzing the Black vote in 2020.