Newsweek op-ed: Don't look now, but Biden's losing black voters too

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

So much for Democrats’ obsession with wokery, eh? It’s been clear for months that going all-in on critical race theory and other progressive obsessions undermined Democrats’ appeal to working-class and conservative Hispanic voters, about three percent of whom embrace the preciously woke “Latinx” as a label. Black conservative Darvio Morrow, the host of Outlaws Radio podcasts, warns that this approach is backfiring among voters in the demographic this strategy was supposed to woo.

The “Emerging Majority” theory is taking a beating, Morrow argues in Newsweek:

The Democratic Party has a huge problem. For decades now, they have been hemorrhaging white rural and working class voters to the Republicans, a trend they have managed to offset with super majorities of voters of color. This was the basis of the “Emerging Majority” theory popular in Democratic circles just a few years ago, which posited that as America became less and less white, it would become more and more firmly attached to the Democratic Party.

The problem with this theory is that it relied the premise that minorities were going to remain solid Democrats. And that premise is turning out to be false. What we’re seeing today is that working class Hispanic voters and conservative Black voters are a lot more like their white counterparts than anyone in the Democratic Party had bargained for. And that spells serious trouble for the Left.

The problem, Morrow argues, is that the condescension that has long been part of the Democrats’ approach to black voters has grown too obvious to ignore. “The tension has always been there,” he writes, but it’s been accelerated by the nationalizing of politics in the social-media era. It’s becoming too tough to hide the fact that Democrats seem more eager to appeal to the elite in Academia than in working with voters in their communities:

Because the Black vote has been solidly Democratic since 1964, political prognosticators tend to ignore and even deny the diversity of thought in the Black community. It’s how they missed the fact that for a majority of Black voters, being a Democrat does not mean being a liberal, and it certainly doesn’t mean being “woke.” It has always been more complicated than that, part of a communal identity that rejected the historic racism of Republicans and viewed progress as building out the achievements of the civil rights movement.

And as the Democratic Party started to cater more and more to white coastal elites, it revealed a deep tension between the needs of a mostly moderate Black community anxious for a fair shot at achieving the American Dream and a party catering to a college-educated professional class that doesn’t think much of America.

We do see some of that erosion in polling, but usually more indirectly than directly. The question is whether black voters are leaving the Democratic Party, or simply have lost interest in voting for Democrats. CNN’s Harry Enten sees it a bit more the latter than the former:

All these polls showed Biden losing a disproportionate amount of support from Black adults (and voters).

Of course, a president losing support with a group doesn’t necessarily translate to changes in electoral preferences. Biden may be down with younger voters, but, as I’ve noted, their midterm preferences should not be drastically different from how they voted in 2020, even considering the current national environment for Democrats.

An examination of the generic congressional ballot indicates, though, that Black voters, at this point, seem far less likely to vote Democratic than you might expect given their voting history.

Take a look at an average of polls — from CNN, Fox, Quinnipiac and Pew — over the last few months. Democrats have a 62-point lead among Black voters, 73% to 11%. That may seem large, but it’s small from a historical standpoint.

The 2020 network exit polls had Democrats winning the national House vote among Black voters by 75 points (87% to 12%). The data firm Catalist calculated that Democrats won by 79 points (89% to 10%). Averaged together, Black voters went Democratic by a 77-point margin in the 2020 House vote.

We’ll get back to that point in a moment, but the New York Times’ op-ed section today warns Democrats that rural America has shifted dramatically toward the GOP. In an adaptation from their book Dirt Road Revival, authors Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward lay that at the feet of their fellow Democrats for many of the same reasons Morrow cites:

As two young progressives raised in the country, we were dismayed as small towns like ours swung to the right. But we believed that Democrats could still win conservative rural districts if they took the time to drive down the long dirt roads where we grew up, have face-to-face conversations with moderate Republican and independent voters and speak a different language, one rooted in values rather than policy.

It worked for us. As a 25-year-old climate activist with unabashedly progressive politics, Chloe was an unlikely choice to be competitive — let alone win — in a conservative district that falls mostly within the bounds of a rural Maine county that has the oldest population in the state. But in 2018, she won a State House seat there with almost 53 percent of the vote. Two years later, she ran for State Senate, challenging the highest-ranking Republican in state office, the Senate minority leader. And again, in one of the most rural districts in the state, voters chose the young, first-term Democrat who sponsored one of the first Green New Deal policies to pass a state legislature.

To us, it was proof that the dogmas that have long governed American politics could and should be challenged. Over the past decade, many Democrats seem to have stopped trying to persuade people who disagreed with them, counting instead on demographic shifts they believed would carry them to victory — if only they could turn out their core supporters. The choice to prioritize turnout in Democratic strongholds over persuasion of moderate voters has cost the party election after election. But Democrats can run and win in communities that the party has written off — and they need not be Joe Manchin-like conservative Democrats to do so.

Indeed, but that’s true for both parties. In fact, that need to get out of base-turnout strategies and actually join other communities was a major theme in my own book, Going Red, published six years ago last month. I looked at data in seven swing counties and predicted that they could become bellwethers in the 2016 general election, but more importantly, I tried to emphasize how Republicans could expand their footprint. They didn’t need to wait for Democrats to shrink theirs in order to achieve growth, but could have done it organically by taking the time to drive down the urban roads where black and Hispanic voters live, as well as other voters who felt disenfranchised by the sharp progressive turn that Democrats had already begun to execute in that cycle.

To make that point, I spoke to black and Hispanic voters in those areas, who were tremendously generous with their time and input. What I heard over and over again was that they felt cast adrift by both parties — taken for granted by Democrats and abandoned by Republicans. And the overarching lesson from writing that book was that demography wasn’t destiny — but both parties had swallowed the “Emerging Majority” hypothesis hook, line, and sinker.

Has that changed? One has to wonder, even when reading Morrow’s excellent essay in Newsweek. It may be that black voters are responding to an improved messaging on working-class issues by the GOP, but perhaps are just getting disgusted by Democrats’ condescension and patronization. If Republicans aren’t following up with real engagement of the kind proposed by Maxmin and Woodward for Democrats, then all that will happen is a short-run ping-pong within the binary party system — a protest vote among a small but significant number of black voters, but mainly a dropoff on engagement.

As a result, the most likely outcome is that both parties will grow less relevant rather than one party prevailing in the ongoing class and culture wars. Both parties seem consistently determined to miss opportunities, even when handed to them on silver platters.