In just a few hours, results from the 2022 midterm elections will start rolling in. As always, Democrats are relying on high voter turnout among Black voters in key battleground states like Georgia to secure Democratic victories.
But some experts worry that if Democrats don’t pick up seats in key states, Black voters will once again bear the brunt of the blame. Who can forget the countless think pieces and articles in 2016 attributing Hilary Clinton’s defeat to Black voters not showing up for Clinton like they did for President Barack Obama. Never mind that Black women’s turnout that year was higher than women’s turnout overall.
“There’s a historic argument that is made election after election when Democrats lose seats that it was due to low turnout of Black voters,” says Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project, a non-profit civil rights organization. “When they don’t turn out in record numbers, they’re blamed for not carrying the election on their backs.”
Midterm elections are consistently low turnout elections for all groups, but Saa’un Bell at Power California, a political organizing group in California, worries that if there aren’t sweeping Democratic victories the media will point the finger at Black voters without proper context.
“When things don’t go a certain way, especially in the midterms, Black voters tend to get blamed,” says Bell.
Browne Dianis says this narrative often discounts the fact that Black voters consistently show up to vote despite facing significant efforts to suppress their vote.
“In the state of Georgia, for example, [they] passed a voter suppression law that made it harder for [people to vote by] cutting back on drop boxes,” she says. “The law also makes it a misdemeanor to give people food and water when they’re standing in line, and that really is Black voters because white voters don’t typically stand in long lines like Black voters.”
Steven Taylor, a political science professor at American University, says that while he doesn’t think Black voters will necessarily be blamed for low voter turnout, he does believe that voter suppression tactics could seriously drive down turnout.
“Georgia is very adept at performing different methods to drive down the turnout, particularly among Black voters,” says Professor Taylor, “if there’s a democratic defeat [in Georgia]... that’s what’s going to have an effect.”
Dr. Jo Von M McCalester, a political science lecturer at Howard University, says that in addition to voter suppression tactics, Democrats often fail to fully appreciate the contributions of Black voters—to their detriment.
“I think in some cases, we’re under-appreciated,” she says. “There was a lot of discussion about how electing Hilary Clinton, Black voters were seen as a sure thing, it was seen as something that was going to happen… and that hurt [Democrats].”
Rather than talk about whether Black voters are doing their part, Aimee Allison, founder of She The People, says that Democrats need to do a better job overall of giving Black voters a reason to turn out other than hatred of Republicans.
“In some of these [states], the Democrats were late or absent until the get-out- the-vote period of the election,” says Allison. “That’s too late… the Democratic party assumes that they have Black voters in the bag without investing in persuading these powerful bloc of voters that they yet again need to come out.”
Allison says that a lot of investment from Democratic politicians has been placed into activating white women voters over abortion rights. “I predict we’re going to see that white women aren’t nearly as persuadable as the Democrats have invested in,” she says. “I predict that they will be largely voting for these Republicans.”
Despite her concerns over the Democratic establishment, Allison says that women of color like Cheri Lynn Beasley in North Carolina and Stacey Abrams have set a powerful example of what good organizing looks like to mobilize Black voters.
“I’m totally excited to see that women of color candidates pull off big wins tonight,” says Allison. “And if they do, it’ll be in spite of the [Democratic party].”