This is unwelcome news for the rest of the primary field, especially Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), who should otherwise have an inside track with black voters. In a 2006 paper, Yale University economist Ebonya Washington found that “Black voter turnout increases by 2.3 percentage points for every Black Democrat on the ballot.” In a 2007 paper in the American Journal of Political Science, Tasha S. Philpot and Hanes Walton Jr. demonstrated that no bloc supports black female candidates like black female voters. And my own research has found that a candidate’s race is especially meaningful to black men’s vote choice. Political scientists have long known that black voters share a sense of “linked fate,” a term used by University of Chicago political scientist Michael C. Dawson to describe “the degree to which African Americans believe that their own self-interests are linked to the interests of the race.”
But when it comes to 2020, the politics of pragmatism make this descriptive representation less important to black voters than voting out the president. One African American voter told the New York Times, “Ms. Harris seems like a decent person, but I just don’t think she’d have a chance” as a black female candidate, “and I don’t want to throw away my vote.” Rosemary Lawrence, a 75-year-old black woman in Charlotte, told The Washington Post she was impressed by Warren’s policy agenda and admired Harris and Booker, but she thought Biden was best positioned to beat Trump. That sentiment isn’t merely a desire to vote for a winner. (And clearly, it’s not just black Democrats who see Biden as a good bet to unseat Trump.) It’s the idea that too much is at stake in 2020 to indulge personal preference.