A supporter for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waits for her to arrive at Solicitor David Pascoe’s Annual Oyster Roast and Fish Fry in Orangeburg, S.C., on Feb. 26, 2016. Blacks were critical to Clinton’s wins on Super Tuesday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
On Super Tuesday, Black voters were the winds behind Hillary Clinton’s sail, analysts said, giving her a major push forward in her quest for the Democratic nomination.
Clinton won seven of 11 Democratic state primaries on March 1, losing four contests to Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.). The results netted Clinton 1,055 of 2,383 delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination, according to a CNN count. Sanders had 418.
Black voters across southern states played a pivotal role in Clinton’s victories—and Sanders’ losses—on Super Tuesday.
“The states Mr. Sanders won are disproportionately White, and the states Mrs. Clinton have won are disproportionately Black,” said Robert Smith, political analyst, San Francisco State University. “We’ve been seeing since the first contests that Mrs. Clinton has relied heavily on African-American voters while Sanders had relied on Whites. That’s what will propel her to the nomination—her overwhelming support from African-American voters.”
Similar to margins in South Carolina, where Clinton earned a resounding victory on Feb. 27, at least 80 percent of Black voters in Alabama, Arkansas, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas voted for the Democratic frontrunner, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research. Black voters made up more than half of voters in both Alabama and Georgia, a third in Tennessee and about a quarter of the electorate in Virginia and Arkansas. Clinton’s win in Massachusetts was the only outcome to break the trend.
Sanders, meanwhile, won majority-White states such as Vermont, Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma.
Clinton’s popularity among Black voters is a reversal from the 2008 primaries when Barack Obama’s historic candidacy muted the former first lady’s longstanding approval within that electorate. That loyalty took an additional hit when a losing Clinton launched sometimes vicious attacks on the upstart Obama.
It seems, however, Black voters are returning to the Clinton fold—more comfortable with the person they know than with the unfamiliar Sanders. And while the Vermont senator promises to be a change-agent—much as a little-known Obama did back in 2008—Sanders lacks the charisma (and skin tone) that enabled Obama to successfully siphon away entrenched Black support for the Clinton dynasty.
Some question whether Black voters will have a similarly pivotal role in the General Elections as they have so far in the Democratic primaries—and as they did in the 2008 and 2012 presidential contests.
“Most people credit the African-American vote for pivoting the outcomes of the 2008 and 2012 elections,” said Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s senior vice president for advocacy and policy. “We saw the highest Black voter turnout in history in 2008. And, the only thing that beat that was the turnout in 2012.”
During Obama’s first run at the White House, more than 16 million African Americans voted in the General Election, 2.1 million more than the previous presidential election. And, four years later, 1.7 million additional Black voters turned out to the polls.
So far, though, polls are showing that Democratic turnout to the 2016 primaries have fallen precipitously, mirroring Republican voter turnout during the last two failed GOP presidential runs.
However, some analysts believe that Black voters will be sufficiently energized come November and will turn out to the polls for several reasons, including the potential of electing America’s first female president should Clinton win the Democratic nomination.
“I am convinced Black women, in particular, who face misogyny in the workplace, etc., will come out for her in high numbers,” Michael Fauntroy, associate professor of political science, Howard University, said.
And then there’s the Trump effect.
“Trump came along and destroyed any inroads the GOP has made with minority voters because his controversial statements have estranged Latino and Black voters,” Smith said. And if he becomes the Republican nominee, “Black voters may be motivated to turn out to ensure he is not elected to the White House.”
Whatever the motivation, Black voters have a key role to play in the country’s political future for the next four years.
“I think Black voters understand how important their vote is,” Shelton said. “Even if we turn out proportionately (African Americans comprise 13 percent of population), 10 percent or more of any vote can pivot the outcome of an election.”