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The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

Make Up Your Mind, Bouie

Jamelle Bouie consistently baffles me. Sometimes he's spot on. Unlike Vann Newkirk II or Ta-Nehisi Coates he doesn't usually go in for the quasi-Marxian "systems analysis" where everything is set up the way it is because some powerful person wants it to be that way.

But in a recent piece I think he's having trouble with the question of black people who are Democrats. Specifically, if a group of Democrats does something, e.g., takes a poll, but they are black, can you say that "the Democrats took a poll"? Does the generic phrase "some Democrats" mean only white Democrats? Do white Democrats get credit for coordinating with black Democrats to get out the vote?

Bouie before the election in Virginia

In the lead-up to the Virginia election Bouie had a piece saying, “white voters need to stop white supremacy on their own and not expect black voters to do it for them.”

That event [the White Supremecists March in Charlottesville], which will likely define the city for the foreseeable future, has laid bare the question of the Donald Trump era: Who is America for? Is this country a multiracial republic, or is it a herrenvolk democracy where whiteness alone confers full citizenship and equal standing? And in turn, Charlottesville has made clear that the final say belongs to white Americans. For as much as blacks and other people of color can fight for the former, it’s up to white people to make a choice—will they share the country and its story, or will they reject equality for hierarchy and caste?

Perhaps realizing that such a message, were black voters to take it to heart, could only serve to depress black turnout, Bouie changed his tune to say, “why are Democrats ignoring black voters?” 


Bouie after the election in Virginia

Now, looking back on the election that was, he says, “Look! Black voters turned out and nobody cares!” 

There are two major demographics that helped Ralph Northam and the Democratic ticket win Virginia’s statewide elections: a strong performance with white and suburban voters, which has received considerable attention since last Tuesday, and high black turnout, which has not.

Reality... Before the election

In reality, in the run-up to the election, multiple news orgs ran stories about Democrats' efforts to mobilize black voters.

Washington Post:

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The city also has a significant African American population, a key Democratic constituency — and a large portion of the 7,500 people gathered at the Obama-Northam rally were black. Black voters make up nearly a fifth of the state’s electorate and are crucial to Democratic success on Election Day.

Politico, November 5th:

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But amid a toxic political environment, activists going door-to-door say they have seen African-American interest in voting spike since the summer, when low engagement alarmed Democratic pollsters hoping to elect Northam over Republican Ed Gillespie. Turnout already shot upward in heavily black areas during the Democratic primary, compared with the last contested primary in 2009, and Northam won big in those regions in June. Since then, black political groups have run a steady stream of radio and digital ads invoking Charlottesville and inequality in the criminal justice system, including NFL players’ protests of the issue. And they are talking with voters one-on-one in Norfolk and other African-American population centers to make a personal case about voting this year.

“They feel that it’s not politics as usual,” said Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, which has been working with the Northam campaign to turn out African-American voters in Hampton Roads. “They know that something else is going on here.”

When BlackPAC first polled voters of color in the state in August, what it found concerned it. The percentage who said they were extremely likely to vote was in the high 60s, and Northam was trailing Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s 2013 performance among voters of color.

In addition to Obama and BlackPAC, the Latino Victory Fund also targeted black voters:

In the last week of Virginia gubernatorial campaign, Republicans howled with outrage over an attack ad against gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie that featured a white man in a pickup truck bearing a Gillespie bumper sticker and a Confederate flag menacing minority children. 

After the election

Has black turnout not recieved "considerable attention" as Bouie says? The Washington Post ran their standard election data piece about a week after the election, focusing on turnout:

A racial divide
A key component of the surge for Democrats was the voters in minority neighborhoods, where Northam won three-quarters of the votes overall and more than 80 percent in African-American neighborhoods. Margins grew by 10 points in Hispanic neighborhoods.
In predominantly white neighborhoods, the large political divide remained about the same, with Democrats and Republicans dividing up the votes that went to third-party candidates back in 2013.

Back to Bouie:

Groups like BlackPAC did this, running ads that directly confronted racist messaging in the state. The candidate himself was more muddled. Northam took a stand against the state’s Confederate monuments but also condemned sanctuary cities and allowed a Democratic-affiliated group to print campaign mailers that omitted lieutenant governor candidate Justin Fairfax, who is black. Still, the collective Democratic effort largely recognized that voters were frightened by developments in Virginia and angered by the rhetoric coming from the Republican campaign, which played to white racial fears. Those efforts were helped by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, whose work to end felon disenfranchisement expanded the overall pool of black voters.

The unspoken question that looms over all of this is: Does Jamelle Bouie count black Democrats as Democrats? If BlackPAC (which originated as a Pro-Hillary group) pays for pollsters and runs adds, does that mean that Democrats paid pollsters and ran adds? Or does the word "Democrats" only refer to Northam and McAuliffe?


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