Making sense of high-profile House, Senate and gubernatorial races this tight will mean breaking down every voting bloc into microscopic bits of data to parse in the postmortem. And of all the big mysteries that will be closely watched and dissected on Nov. 4, few will be as anxiously anticipated as the exit polling for women voters—since they were 53 percent of the electorate in 2012.
Commentators, strategists and campaign managers walking that last electoral mile will be looking for answers to one of the more vexing questions of the 2014 midterms: What do women voters care about?
Perhaps one of the more underestimated and overlooked voting segments is black women. Since black women outvoted their white counterparts by 11 percentage points in 2012, essentially quarterbacking a historically high black voting base that year, it’s safe to say they’ll turn out again. By how much, we don’t know. But what we do know is that, as The Nation’s Dani McClain asserts, black women are “the voting bloc to watch.”
The Take looks at what black women might be thinking as they head to the polls next Tuesday. A number of leading experts chimed in and offered some perspective, including Elsie Scott, founding director of the Ronald Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center; Chanelle P. Hardy, senior vice president for policy at the National Urban League; Koritha Mitchell, Ohio State University professor of African-American literature; Kristal Hartsfield, national director of the Republican National Committee’s African-American Strategic Initiatives; Jenifer Daniels, CEO of Good&Smart; and Danielle Adams, a member of the Durham, N.C., Board of Supervisors Soil and Water Conservation District.
Danielle Adams (@DanielleAdamsNC): I wish I gave a damn about this election. I wish I was motivated and fired up and ready to go, but I’m not. For the first time in my 10-plus years of voting, I’ve considered not voting in every race on the ballot. In this election I have no one to fight for because there are no candidates on my ballot fighting for me. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) broadcasts commercials featuring women of diverse backgrounds and talks about her fight against defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting reproductive rights and intruding on the abilities of women to make personal choices with their health care providers. Reproductive health has become the single women’s issue of 2014. However, black female voters don’t have the luxury to be so single focused.
Chanelle P. Hardy (@ChanelleHardy): While I agree with the women that emphasize that women’s issues are front and center for midterm elections and that women’s health is a priority, I believe it is deeply important that we not overlook the economic policies that have a dramatic impact in the day-to-day lives of black women. African-American women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs—so our wages actually dropped in 2013. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift many of us out of poverty. African-American women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. Fixing this disparity would translate to real dollars to strengthen our households and grow the economy. The African-American homeownership rate is down to 44 percent from a high of 49 percent. For African Americans, more than any other group, our wealth is tied to our homes—representing more than 90 percent of our wealth.
Elsie Scott (@Walters_Legacy): The most universal concern for black women is economic issues including income equality, job creation, underemployment, benefits. Other key issues are health care and education—affordable quality education. Voter suppression will continue to be an issue of concern in states where laws have been changed and/or actions taken that the black population considers as acts to restrict their vote or ability to vote. Violence and the criminal-justice system could drive turnout, with Ferguson, Mo., and other police-citizen confrontations continuing. Most of the incidents have involved black men, but women have been on the front lines advocating for change. Reproductive choice is of concern, but not to the extent that it is among white women activists.
Jenifer Daniels (@jentrification): Black women are voting for more than reproductive rights—we are voting for our living children. We care about their access to exceptional public education. Safe and clean drinking water. Breathable air. I think black women are tuned in to this midterm election cycle, more than any other voting bloc. This year there are more black women running for office—from school board to secretary of state. Our next political fight will be exercising our power by putting up our own slates and clearly defining our issues during an election.
Kristal Hartsfield (@Kristalq1): Black women voters are not one-issue voters. The reproductive-rights discussion is important, but just like all voters, black women are concerned about jobs and equal pay, access to quality, affordable health care, and housing for themselves and their families. They want quality educational options for their children and essentially the opportunity to live the American dream.
Koritha Mitchell (@ProfKori): Voter suppression touches a nerve for me because it’s an example of what I call know-your-place aggression. Those who want to suppress the voice of the people wouldn’t be working so hard to do so if they were not scared of the success that people are having despite every obstacle put in their way. Just as we saw a conservative backlash after black soldiers earned honor abroad in World War I and World War II and after the civil rights victories of the 1960s and 1970s, we are seeing a backlash in the age of Obama. All of this disregard for black life in the streets and disregard for black and brown voices at the ballot box has everything to do with our seeing ourselves as citizens and having some success at being recognized as such. Some people are determined to reverse that progress, so the violent backlash is a reaction to our success. Black success beckons the mob.
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.