The next two years will be twisted in knots—for Democrats, for Republicans and for the “black electorate.” University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald estimates that a little less than 37 percent of the voter-eligible population voted in this week’s election. That prompted President Obama to mic-drop twice during his mea culpa-less postelection press conference that “two-thirds of the people eligible to vote didn’t vote,” which, translated, means, “Don't get it twisted, Republican fam. Last night wasn’t a mandate.”
It also means it’s time for a major reassessment: Democrats will need to seriously rethink and probably completely overhaul their approach on campaign strategy, messaging and policy. For Republicans, rubber will now meet the road, since the governing ball is bouncing in their court. For African Americans, we’ll need to go back to the community drawing board and re-evaluate our relationship with the two parties—and our own approach to the political process.
The Take turned to a few thought leaders to offer some context on what’s next. Gracious to jump in this busy week was Peter C. Groff, former and first black president of the Colorado Senate (a battleground state); HipHopWired contributing editor, NewsOne writer and underground lyricist D.L. Chandler; and Urban Faith columnist, blogger and lawyer Jeneba Ghatt.
Peter C. Groff (@petercgroff): I suspect many who came up short are wondering what would have happened with a more substantive and sustained mobilization effort among African Americans and what effect it would have had on their races.
D.L. Chandler (@dlchandler123): This was all about low voter turnout, disinterest from the so-called burgeoning force of millennials, jaded Generation Xers and a Democratic Party largely out of touch with engaging its base. Anyone shocked by the “Republican Wave” of 2014 paid no attention to the galvanizing ground efforts of the GOP in 2010, the surging organization of the GOP in 2012 and factoring in the lame-duck period of President Obama’s reign in office.
Jeneba Ghatt (@jenebaspeaks): It was voter apathy, and an absence by the Democrats to institute a strong grassroots and GOTV campaign in most districts early on, with a sprinkling of voter suppression.
Groff: Still, black turnout should buoy Democrats and play a much more critical role as they move toward 2016. The depth of Democratic losses in the South shows they have an uphill battle. Georgia and Texas were supposed to be pivot points to purple for the party and steps to a friendlier electoral map in 2016. The Deep South is very tough sledding for Democrats. They will have to find a way to shoot the gap between a history of racial hostility, increased political polarization and cultural uniqueness to win at the statewide level.
Chandler: The youth base seems only eager to organize around ballot measures that speak to progressive matters. The passing of marijuana laws in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., spoke directly to that. Guam passing a medical-marijuana measure and California’s Proposition 47 also highlight the success of the progressive agenda moving forward. Voters are sending a clear signal: They’re largely disaffected by Washington politics and politicians, and they are seizing the moment in state and local issues. As Tip O'Neill famously said, “All politics is local”—and it appears Dems forgot that.
Ghatt: Does it say that much about 2016? I think it says people are in a state of limbo where they aren’t necessarily dissatisfied enough to take the five to 10 minutes it takes to vote. And the candidates on the ballot didn’t do much to reach out to them. It could give the president cover for the next two years and set up for Hillary or whoever else is the Democratic nominee some ammunition. The president won’t have to absorb full blame if there is little legislation or policy. The blame will be more so on Republicans, since they are in control of Capitol Hill.
Chandler: Heading into 2016, Republicans can’t afford to undo all of their hard work by pushing aggressive agendas and giving us the same old. Their politics worked out—now what’s the policy going to look like? So, instead, we may see a relaxed Republican base holding the keys to White House glory if they play nice and work smarter.
Ghatt: The black electorate adapts if and when they see a Republican majority in Congress and in their states changing their lives for the worse. If that’s the case, then they learn and turn out in 2016. But then again, they turn out higher in presidential elections.
Chandler: The black electorate has to embrace the idea of true civic participation on all levels. Black voters and, to some degree, Latino voters are the gatekeepers in these power shifts. The next two to four years will be incredibly interesting in places heavily populated by voters of color, but black voters have to get their heads out of the sand and stop going along with the stale liberal expectations of old.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.