Since the election (which is still not technically over, although it’s very much decided), Congressional Democrats have squabbled over what is to blame for their less-than-stellar performance at the ballot box. Among the accusations, launched most vociferously by S.C. Rep. James Clyburn, is that “sloganeering” in the form of “Defund the police” was harmful for Democrats, particularly in congressional races.
Activists—and a bit of data—have challenged that claim.
According to a new Bloomberg CityLab report, which spoke to several activists for its report, noted that “pretty much every city in the U.S. that hosted protests” voted for President-elect Joe Biden, as did their surrounding suburbs. In fact, cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Pittsburgh—all of which have relatively large Black populations and saw a lot of protest activity over the summer—were instrumental in giving Biden victories in their respective home states.
The Associated Press’ VoteCast survey, widely referenced in the wake of the election, found a majority (68 percent) of Biden voters thought racism among police was a serious problem. Most Biden voters (53 percent) also said it was a consideration in casting their votes.
“It was that organizing around police violence that actually led us to be able to mobilize folks to the polls,” Pittsburgh-based organizer Jasiri X told Citylab. “We took that energy and those resources that we got and for the first time we were able to hire people, and to recruit digital canvassers, and put money into things like voting festivals because we had access to those resources.”
A survey of Black voters conducted by Black Futures Lab prior to the election also found that protest-centered messaging was effective with engaging younger voters. Across all age groups, Black voters were most moved by messages that voting was an extension of their protest efforts.
Of course, “defund the police” and police protest aren’t synonymous: many people, Black and non-Black, support substantive police reform but stop short of demanding smaller budgets for law enforcement—or abolishing police forces altogether.
But the Pennsylvania-based activists Citylab spoke to said the “defund/abolish the police” language appeared to draw in more people than it turned away, especially first-time and infrequent Black voters who were pivotal to Biden’s victory. It also opened up crucial discussions about the nature of policing and what effective reform could look like—even if people misunderstood or didn’t agree with the stance.
It’s possible that voters across the country responded to police brutality differently on the local level—particularly with state and congressional representatives—than they did the presidency, though why this is worth exploring (Trump is a uniquely galvanizing force in and of himself, after all).
Still, based on what we know now, it’s clear that Black Lives Matter in all its facets, from police abolition to reform, paved Biden’s way to the White House.