We’re hearing a lot these days about the angry white base of the Republican Party. Beyond analysis of this group as the core of support for presidential candidates like Donald Trump, there are people who suggest that Democrats (like President Obama) need to reach out to them either to calm the waters of our political divide or as people who might be lured back into the Democratic Party.
There are occasions when people also refer to the base of the Democratic Party. Often it is assumed that this group is made up of the most liberal activists – in this election cycle, Bernie Sanders supporters.
But take a moment to look at some of the data in a report about a group that doesn’t get much attention in our political discussions these days: The Status of Black Women in American Politics.
First of all, the number of black women who turn out to vote is higher than any other demographic group – 70% in 2012. That number has been rising since 1996, so it is more than a response to the candidacy of Barack Obama. And no group votes more consistently Democratic than black women. Here are the figures since 1992:
1992 Bill Clinton – 87%
1996 Bill Clinton – 89%
2000 Al Gore – 94%
2004 John Kerry – 90%
2008 Barack Obama – 96%
2012 Barack Obama – 96%
As a comparison, in the above elections no Democratic candidate got more than 48% of the vote from white women.
But, perhaps you say that the issue for Democrats these days isn’t presidential elections, but midterms and off-year elections. The report points to the following example:
In the 2013 gubernatorial election in Virginia, 91% of Black women voters voted for Democratic winner Terry McCauliffe, while 54% of non- Hispanic White women voters voted for Republican Ken Cuccinelli.
Some may suggest that this base of the Democratic Party doesn’t need to be catered to because they have no other place to go in our two-party system. There is some truth in that. Given the current status of the Republican Party, it is clear that they have no interest in wooing black women into their ranks. But when it comes to the future of the Democratic Party, it’s important to keep this in mind:
Finally, Black women represent a significant portion of the Rising American Electorate (RAE), an estimated 115 million eligible voters – and nearly half of the electorate – composed of unmarried women, people of color, and people under 30 years old. Black women sit at the intersection of these groups, representing just over half of the 26.9 million eligible Black voters and 19% of all eligible unmarried women voters (Lake, Ulibarri, and Treptow 2013). They also represent the most active and dependable contingent of the RAE, contributing to its growing influence and playing an essential role in building coalitions across RAE groups to influence electoral outcomes in future races.
Beyond all that, it is interesting to notice which groups in our political system continue to draw our attention and which ones are too often ignored. Black women are playing an increasingly active role lately in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Democrats who ignore that do so at their own peril.