I am not a mind reader, a soothsayer, a sage or in any way gifted with divining gifts. After decades of being wrong about Super Bowls, NBA Championships and NCAA brackets, I have come to accept that only Miss Cleo, Whoopi from Ghost and Ciara’s ex-bae can predict the future. So believe me when I say that I was shocked at the results of this week’s Presidential Black Power Rankings.
Our committee rotates every week; sometimes we have activists and political experts; other times we have fellow journalists; sometimes we have seasoned citizens; some weeks it’s just random people with an interest in politics. The only consistency is me and Marcus Ferrell (former head of African-American outreach Bernie Sanders for America 2016) and the fact that everybody on the committee is verifiably black.
This week, we tried something new. We chose only “low information” voters for the Power Rankings. What’s a low-information voter? Not you, because you’re actually reading the Black Power Rankings. Low-information voters are the millions of Americans who don’t care about politics—your friends who think Ukraine is a special kick Daniel used at the end of Karate Kid; your aunt who literally thinks that Larry David is the real person and Bernie Sanders is a character he plays on SNL.
It’s easy to assume low-information people are stupid and care more about the Real Housewives than the impeachment hearings (for many of you, it’s still a toss-up), but the truth is, they are also some of the best voters to talk to when you’re trying to really predict what’s going to happen in a presidential election. Not because they know what’s going to happen (remember, these people couldn’t tell the difference between Mayor Pete and a sentient jar of actual mayonnaise wearing khakis...which, by the way, even I get confused sometimes) but because they are indicative of what messages actually pierce through the daily grind of school, work, Instagram, and daily blackness in America.
We asked them to pay attention to the candidates this week, listen to them on television, follow them on social media, check out their websites and see what appealed to them. I was sure they’d go for Joe Biden out of familiarity and name recognition, and I was totally wrong, which means you should take my sports predictions (Chiefs over the 49ers, 35 to 28 in Sunday’s Super Bowl) as being only slightly more credible than my Iowa caucuses prediction (Sanders wins in the first round but Biden or Buttigieg pulls off a technical upset based on second-choice votes). Now, on to the rankings.
This week’s big riser is Andrew Yang. That’s right, do not adjust your set or your blue hat, but Yang jumped into the top spot among low-information committee members. This week’s biggest losers? There are two: Mayor Pete Buttigieg drops seven whole points to last place, proving once again that even black folks just meeting him think something in the mayo ain’t clean. Also, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who despite rising in the national polls, fell off the Black Power Rankings this week because of sentiments like this from one committee member:
As a Brooklynite, I grew up during Bloomberg’s reign. Stories of my brothers and 13-year-old naive friends dealing with stop and frisk are some stories I’ll have to share for another day, but Bloomberg...just know some of us haven’t forgotten who you truly are.
How do we calculate black power?
- Finances: Are you paying black staff, advertisers, consultants?
- Legislation: What legislation are you pushing or have passed for black people?
- External Polling: No matter how good you are for black people, if your poll numbers are terrible we can’t rank you that high!
- X-Factor: What’s your rhetoric like? How do you handle a crisis or the kinds of events and scandals that directly impact black lives?
#1: Businessman Andrew Yang
I am not Yang Gang, I’m not Yang Clique, I’m not even Yang Book Club, but I must admit the low-information crew loved Andrew Yang as a presidential candidate. I assumed it was because of his $1,000 universal basic income Cash Now plan, which has made him the JG Wentworth of the 2020 field, but it wasn’t that. Voters found him funny, sincere and many were willing to give him another look because of high-profile endorsements from Donald Glover and Dave Chappelle. If Dave ever does a Yang commercial, he could pretty much just repurpose his reparations sketch and win over black folks just the same.
Even though Yang’s main focus has been jobs and the economy, several committee members were drawn to his healthcare plans:
Both of my parents have suffered from cancer and I have watched them struggle and continue to struggle to pay for their treatments. My mother even had to file medical bankruptcy to assist her. I want to live in a country where Americans aren’t going broke simply to stay alive. Andrew Yang seems to have a grasp on that, and it’s for that reason he has earned my No. 1 spot.
Yang is still polling at 4 percent with black voters nationally and is still at 45 percent of the population not even knowing who he is, but he somehow pulls out the top spot this week on our rankings. Oh, the humanity...but he’s still in first.
#2: Former Vice President Joe Biden
The committee ranked Joe Biden second this week, with the same level of enthusiasm you dredge up for a trip to the laundromat, waiting in line at the Verizon store, and scrolling through your mom’s Facebook posts about last week’s Sunday sermon.
“Biden! I was rooting for you, until I found out that I was only really rooting for you because I thought that you were the closest thing to Obama,” said one committee member.
If it’s any consolation, these voters don’t care that Hunter Biden is basically the Jesse Pinkman of politicians’ kids, and nothing the GOP has tried to slap him with has stuck. So why is Uncle Joe so testy this week? He got brolic with yet another voter in Iowa, assuming he was a Sanders voter (turns out, the guy was voting for Steyer), and Biden has now fallen behind Bernie Sanders in consecutive national polls. Despite maintaining a huge lead with black voters (Biden is over 50 percent in most polls), he’s resorted to begging famous black women to prop up his campaign; first, it was Stacey Abrams; now Biden says he’d love for Michelle Obama to be his VP. Last time I heard a white man drop this many famous black women’s names, he was trying to get past a bouncer at Essence Fest. Joe doesn’t look strong going into Iowa, but he’s familiar and that might be enough for most voters.
#3: Sen. Elizabeth Warren
There is nothing more annoying than seeing somebody who owes you money posting on the ’gram about how much fun they’re having at black ski weekend. Did you find my $500 hiding under all that snow? Elizabeth Warren moves up in the Power Rankings this week for channeling any and all black people who’ve ever owed money, been owed money or are thinking about lending money.
Warren spoke about Navient this week, a company that aggressively pursued poor students to repay college loans and yet has owed the federal government over $22 million for the last decade and hasn’t paid up. More than any other candidate, Warren has talked specifically about how college debt disproportionately affects black students, and while she’s been stuck in the Senate, she’s tweeted and had campaign surrogates talking about gun violence, mental health discrimination, and is supporting black and brown union workers of UNITE HERE during the Super Bowl even though local chapters have supported Warren and Sanders.
In a week when most campaigns are turning all of their messages toward white voters in a state that shouldn’t even be first, Warren is still campaigning for all of America (must be Julian Castro’s influence!).
#4: Sen. Bernie Sanders
“He first made a tremendous appearance in the 2016 presidential election and brought the fire out of my fellow high school students who couldn’t give two shits who was running for president after Obama left,” said one committee member. “But once they heard free college, whew chile, they couldn’t wait to run home and tell their moms, ‘We making it out the ‘hood mama!’ With his stance on free college and debts being paid, I could applaud him for not being the traditional candidate promising us something we know we’re not going to get, but it’s all about believing. right?”
For Gen Z voters, Bernie Sanders is like an old, white, grievance-pandering, grumpy version of Obama, a candidate whom many of them were too young to vote for, let alone truly get excited about. Unlike with Obama, they don’t believe Bernie’s going to accomplish anything he says. The committee put Sanders in third, which is actually two spots lower than where he is almost every poll this week, in Iowa, Nevada, and in the national Curb Your Enthusiasm cosplay contest. Just kidding, he’s not first place in Nevada.
Sanders’ black support is all over the place this week, with polls ranging from 17 to 28 percent, which means he’s either gaining ground or all 12 black people that supported Cory Booker have decided to back him. Sanders was again caught centering racist white guys this week when a story from 1972 in which he appears to praise segregationist George Wallace came to light. While Sanders’ position was nuanced, his ability to engage in linguistic gymnastics to humanize racist voters, if not leaders, is a cause for concern. But of course, that’s only if you’re paying attention, which our committee, like all too many Americans, is not.
#5: Businessman Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer’s official campaign slogan is “Actions Speak Louder Than Words,” which is a phrase I’ve always had trouble with. Yes, actions speak louder than words, but when people’s actions and words contradict one another, you know what they always fall back on? What they’ve said, not what they’ve done.
Random Woman: Wait so you flew me to Paris, I met your parents, and you bought me a ring but we ain’t together?
Trifling Guy: But girl, I toooooollllle you from jump I wasn’t ready for a relationship.
See? You can judge people by what they’ve done, but they’ll cover themselves by what they say. I mention this because the committee ranked Steyer in the middle of the pack based in large part on what he’s said, because there isn’t a lot out there about what he’s actually done for black people. Steyer came out strongly in favor of reparations again this week and calling for criminal justice reform after the 14th death in a Mississippi state prison this year, (nine have come from Parchman prison alone). Basically, imagine the movie Saw except Jigsaw is played by Django’s Calvin Candie and that’s about half as racist, abusive and inhumane as the current Mississippi prison system. Credit to Steyer for being one of the few candidates to highlight the tragedy.
Also, Steyer got to say it with his chest to Joe Biden this week, after Uncle Joe almost came to blows with a Steyer voter. But let’s be honest; Tom is polling at nothing plus nothing means nothing percent in Iowa, so he might actually be defending his only supporter in the state.
#6: Sen. Michael Bennet
When I first saw a number of committee members list Michael Bennet in their top 10, I was thinking they must be confusing him with Michael Bennett, former Seahawks Defensive end and author of the best “please leave me alone on the train, I don’t want to talk to you” book cover of 2018. But it turns out they actually like Bennet (with one “t”) himself. Of course, hearing that someone is excited about a Michael Bennet candidacy is like your friend calling you up thrilled that they just found this show on Netflix called Underground and are really getting into these short videos called Vines. Do you really want to be that guy who breaks the news that none of these things made it? No, you’re not that person; you’ll let them find out on their own. The Bennet candidacy, like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and moderate Republicans, is just one of those things you let people invest in, even if they’re totally imaginary.
Outside of Bennet’s rousing “equal is not equal” moment about discrimination in education (which is quite good; he was the superintendent of Denver public schools), he hasn’t done much in the campaign to warrant attention.
However, that’s the value, in part, of a low-information voter committee; when people are not inundated by horse-race coverage, aren’t following politics every day and just pay attention to what’s important to them, you’ll find some interesting results. And yes, this might be the only time the words “interesting” and “Michael Bennet” have been in the same sentence.
#7: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
If Tulsi Gabbard weren’t so friendly with Russians and Trump and wasn’t desperately trying to have mean girl moments with Kamala Harris and Hillary Clinton, she might actually be worth listening to. Gabbard is currently suing Hillary Clinton for slander, and Clinton is ignoring her like working-class voters in Wisconsin (too soon? Or too late?).
Gabbard gave an amazing speech in New Hampshire about the Doomsday clock. That’s the annual measurement by the world’s atomic scientists about how close we are to nuclear disaster. You know what time it is? We’re Fucked O’Clock. She weaved this into a discussion of the 2018 false alarm of a nuclear attack in Hawaii and how that reinforced her dedication to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Gabbard has been pushing hard in New Hampshire to make a name for herself, though she remains at negative zero percent with black voters. To be fair, only 1.7 percent of Hawaiian residents are black (it jumps back to 1.9 percent when the Obamas visit), so maybe we can give her a bit of a break on how lousy she’s been on black policy, not just this week but in general. But the committee? They were strangely moved by Gabbard’s speeches on education, her commitment to women’s rights and, believe it or not, they found that she exudes leadership. Said one member about Gabbard’s focus on education:
I used to work at Staples and during the months of late July to early September, I usually saw teachers buying huge bundles of school supplies for their students. I used to feel so bad because I would get the same answer every time: “Schools don’t have funding to supply students, so it’s almost our unwritten duty to provide supplies.”
Who knew Gabbard came across as an advocate for education? Maybe once you get to the heart of this Russian nesting doll masquerading as a Democrat, you actually find a heart of gold.
#8: Former Gov. Deval Patrick
The committee was thoroughly underwhelmed by Deval Patrick and, his slogan, “Meet the Moment,” sounds like the kind of thing you hear at a Friday night seminar in a drab Holiday Inn ballroom that your friend from work invited you to, offering stale Oreos, Dixie Cups of fruit punch, and ends with some guy on stage trying to get you into his network marketing upline. Interestingly, Patrick is the only candidate where the committee really mentioned “electability,” which suggests to me that even black people who don’t know anything about politics know enough to know that white America is not about to let another black man into the White House unless he’s hoisting a trophy.
The Boston Herald claims that Patrick is holding out for an Obama endorsement to jump-start his campaign, which is like waiting for rocket fuel to power my magic carpet. Obama isn’t endorsing anybody; he’s flashing his bare ankles and working on his zaddy 2020 credentials. If your campaign is dependent on something as elusive as a Willy Wonka ticket dipped in McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce with four-leaf clover sprinkles, you should probably lower your expectations. Or get out.
#9: Sen. Amy Klobuchar
You know how we know the #Klobucharmy has #Klomentum? Because people are finally starting to dig into her background. Klobuchar, like many a Midwestern white Democrat, started her career on the back of a “tough on crime” record and throwing black folks in jail indiscriminately. That includes Myron Burrell, who Klobuchar helped sentence to life in prison, even though there was no gun, no DNA, and various eyewitnesses who say he had nothing to do with the killing of an 11-year-old girl in 2002. The Minnesota NAACP and Black Lives Matter chapters are calling for Klobuchar to suspend her campaign, which is about as likely as her chances of actually winning in Iowa.
Klobuchar may not survive past New Hampshire, so the committee may not need to invest in her any more than she’s invested in the black community. The low-information voters ranked her pretty low because they couldn’t find anything she did better than any other candidate above her. However, just in case she does make it, we want to make one thing clear: We’ve never trusted someone who can eat salad with a comb.
#10: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
“Listen to me, black folks: I don’t really care for this man. I don’t know this man. He could walk right past me and I wouldn’t know a thing. Sorry to this man,” said one committee member after a week of watching Mayor Pete.
Mayor Buttigieg manages to turn off black people who literally just met him. That’s really saying something because most of our committee didn’t know who Mayor Pete was before the Power Rankings, and after a week, they didn’t really like him. However, they do like his Douglass Plan of comprehensive policies for black America, so I guess the issue is that people only like parts of Pete Buttigieg. If Pete were an Oreo, he’d be the cookie you leave on the plate and the Douglass Plan would be the filling you actually eat. (And yes, being compared to an Oreo cookie might just be the blackest thing that’s ever been said about Mayor Pete.) If Pete were a plate of hot wings he’d be all the flats (Sorry, Damon) and the Douglass Plan would be the drumsticks. If Pete were a white character on Power, he definitely wouldn’t be Tommy; he wouldn’t even be Proctor; he’d be Cooper Saxe.
Maybe this explains why Mayor Pete’s own campaign is basically having a mutiny just weeks before Iowa or why even when he says the most generic of campaign phrases (literally everyone praises the American heartland), he gets ratioed about it for days by everyone from NPR’s Michelle Norris to Ava DuVernay. At this point, there’s just something about Pete...and people don’t trust it or like it.