There has been a long-simmering tension between the Democratic Party apparatus and its African-American base. Many black women, especially, voice frustration at what they interpret as a lack of commitment from a party that repeatedly depends on them to push its candidates to victory. In last year’s Alabama special election, black women played the deciding role, electing Democrat Doug Jones with 98 percent of their votes. And in 2016 they rallied behind Hillary Clinton in her presidential run, delivering 94 percent of their vote to the Democratic nominee.
With midterms fast-approaching and 2020 on the horizon, black women may well determine the Democratic Party’s success. But have Democrats earned their vote? And what can the party do to support a surge of black women who are running for office?
Melanie L. Campbell is president of the nonpartisan National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable, a program centered on harnessing black women’s voting power to influence policy around the issues that matter most to them. Campbell has worked for more than a decade on voter enfranchisement, community engagement, and voter registration. I sat down with her to discuss the central importance of black women for the Democratic Party.
Safiya Charles: Black Women’s Roundtable conducted its first Power of the Sister Vote poll with Essence magazine in 2015, what stands out when you look at the data over that three-year period?
Melanie L. Campbell: Right before Obama was elected, we established the Black Women’s Roundtable, because while everyone was talking about black women’s voting power, we weren’t really seeing our issues’ being addressed. The Essence poll gives us an idea of what black women are thinking, what their priority issues are, and what they’re looking for from a candidate. The impact of the 2016 election is still being felt, and last year’s poll really gave us a window to see that something different was happening in the way black women were thinking. There was an 11-point drop [85 to 74 percent] in the belief among black women that the Democratic Party had our best interests at heart. For the Democrats, that’s pretty significant, because these are black women who vote [98 percent of the poll’s respondents!]. In 2016, polling showed that black women were more interested in running for office, and now we’ve seen that happen. That’s partly why the Democratic Party is getting challenged, because black women are shifting how we want to leverage our power.
SC: I also noticed that more black women were identifying as independents.