Why Black Voters Are the Most Rational Voters of 2016

Charles D. Ellison
DENMARK, SC - FEBRUARY 12: A voter listens to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speak in South Carolina a day after her debate with rival candidate Bernie Sanders on February 12, 2016 in Denmark, South Carolina. Clinton is counting on strong support from the African American community in South Carolina to give her a win over Sanders in the upcoming primary on February 27. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Let’s face it. Black voters are about the only folks in 2016 who haven’t lost their damn minds.

Contrary to some nimble-minded pop-culture notions that either we’re not politically sharp or we don’t care about elections or we just vote for people who look like us, black voters (for the most part) are a rather strategically sound bunch. But that’s because the stakes are always ever so high for us. There’s little margin for error, little wiggle room when the wrong people are put in power. When election outcomes go south—or, in our case, symbolically Deep South—we can’t accept it because we’re so busy mentally preparing to pull our political rip cords on a proverbial parachute.


We’re not simply jumping out of a crashing national plane, so to speak (because where else can we go, considering our statistical lack of social mobility, anyway?). Yet we do suddenly find ourselves escalating communitywide survival mode.

When the nation’s political condition hits the fan, it predictably hits us first. In recent polls, we can see the sharp differences between rising, practical black anxiousness and the largely distressing white callousness over just how high the stakes are. When YouGov asked (pdf) likely voters last week if they could understand why someone would vote for Donald Trump, nearly 70 percent of African Americans couldn’t grasp it. Yet 60 percent of whites could see why (along with, interestingly enough, 35 percent of Latinos, nearly double the percentage of blacks polled).

From signs of a bubbling “Bradley effect” (which colleague Jason Johnson pointed out earlier) to the irrational pop-offs of largely white insurgent crowds at now both Trump- and Bernie Sanders-camp-facilitated rallies, we now know that an alarmingly growing number of white people have gone mad. And, if anything, it’s more like a “Rizzo effect”—ghosts of the late, gregariously racist white Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, who came within inches of snatching away the second term of the city’s first black mayor, Wilson Goode, thanks to white voters who wanted “Big Frank” back.

White commentators, prognosticators and comedians may yuk it up daily and hurl jokes at orange-faced billionaire Trump, but none of that is changing the 52 percent of white voters supporting him in this Public Policy Poll (pdf)—or how Forbes’ Jeffrey Pfeffer pegged it way back last summer: “Narcissism, not modesty, and self-confident, even overconfident, self-presentation lead to leadership roles.”


All because most white Americans—through dominant social, political and economic norms—still maintain the privilege of shredding up institutions and starting from scratch when the mood strikes. Sure, many may get nervous when visualizing “President Trump.” But that doesn’t stop 30 percent of white Democratic Sanders supporters in this McClatchy-Marist poll from saying that they won’t support Hillary Clinton in the general election. For them, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. You shouldn’t be surprised, then, when Megyn Kelly softball-interviews Trump or when Operation Humanize Trump proceeds at full media speed.

Nonwhite voters, on the other hand—particularly black voters—have a better, more practical sense than that … given expertise with dark tunnels, broken promises and lots of busted streetlights. We’ve actually been in this episode before. There’s nothing really funny about Trump’s political rise, nothing really reassuring about it. And so, even when 35 percent of African-American voters (in that same McClatchy survey) might say they’d like to see a Sanders nomination, only 18 percent of “nonwhite” voters opt out of voting for Clinton. In the latest YouGov poll (pdf), you also catch that disparity in common sense between insane white voters and largely rational black voters: A near 40 percent of whites believe that Sanders shouldn’t help Clinton win the general at all, compared with a combined 63 percent of African Americans who are like, “Really, son?”


Because, really, there’s nothing unique or even remotely touching about a loud-mouthed bigot with lots of loot. Not when he’s picking an all-white slate of nearly a dozen potential Supreme Court nominees at a time when that institution is conveniently poised to put curtains on everything from voting rights to affirmative action. And not when he’s egging on his supporters as they’re mob-beating peaceful black protesters, or feigning ignorance of white supremacists. As election drama unfolds, there’s quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding how this year’s political process will shake out. But at least we’ll find some comfort in a black vote that’s tried, true … and perfectly sane.

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.

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