2016 Analysis Election

understanding black support for Clinton

As the primary race creeps along we keep hearing about Hillary Clinton’s popularity among blacks. That apparently explains her sweeps in southern states: “according to exit polls, Clinton won more than 80 percent of black votes in Tennessee and Georgia, and 90 percent in Arkansas in Alabama.” I’ve been trying to understand what can explain this.

New Statesman says sums up the record argument (also more ramblingly made at NPR):

Under Bill Clinton, median household income grew by 25 per cent in African-American households, at double the speed as it did for households nationwide. Unemployment among African Americans fell by six points, against a three-point drop among the population as a whole… Clinton has been talking about fitting police with body cameras – a key demand of the Black Lives Matter campaign – before Sanders was even a candidate.

And PBS adds the Obama legacy argument:

An assessment of Clinton and Sanders’ support for Obama in general, and the Affordable Care Act in particular, also factored heavily into the decision-making process, many black voters said. “Clinton is positioning herself to carry on the efforts of President Obama,” Cassandra Williams Rush, 66, said on the eve of the primary. “I just don’t get the right vibes from Sanders.”

But NBC News adds this reporting:

Clinton’s support among black voters was highest among those 60 and older — 92 percent. And while she won a 61 percent majority of black voters younger than 30, Sanders made inroads with these younger voters overall, getting about four in 10 of their votes.

ThinkProgress has a lot more analysis along those lines:

Clinton’s huge margin of popularity with black voters overall does not extend to young black voters. To be sure, she is still winning in that area — but not by a lot. And her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)… isn’t winning black millennials, but he is winning a significant portion of black millennials… In fact, young voters overall seem to be Clinton’s major weak spot. She lost the youth vote in every single Super Tuesday state.

The vibe I’m getting here is that old people — especially blacks — who are nostalgic for the 90s support Clinton. So why old people? From a Huffington Post entreaty to become Sanders supporters, we have this thought:

The difference now between Hillary and Bernie’s African American support is largely driven by a lack of information… The race between Clinton and Sanders is apparently not close when you’re talking about young Black people. The question is: when will older Black people catch up?

This brings to mind the hopeful argument of many Sanders supporters. Again, from New Republic, that thinking may have a sinister implication:

…of course, black voters might not be going for Sanders just yet, but as soon as they “listen to his message” they will be won over. That says, effectively, that Clintonism is a state of sin from which black voters will shortly be uplifted.

But there are actual criticisms of Clinton by black scholars. Michelle Alexander picks apart Clinton’s 90s legacy at the Nation. Her argument was referenced by that rambling NPR article, and it also points to other studies debunking the notion that the Clinton Administration was a halcyon period for blacks:

The economy in the 1990s wasn’t nearly as good for African-Americans as many perceived it to be, as Melissa Lacewell-Perry found in a 2005 study. Moreover, the poorest black Americans grew worse off.

So the idea that the Clinton legacy isn’t sunshine and roses isn’t a new one, and yet it hasn’t seemed to stick with black voters. Add to that how Clinton is the natural heir to Obama and it becomes easy to understand widespread black support for her. Indeed, that New Republic article notes that “the small number of African Americans who have endorsed Sanders have tended to be hyper-critical of Obama – like Cornel West, or Killer Mike.”

Still, the most interesting takeaway here for me is that blacks are biased toward Clinton generally, but especially so among older blacks and older people in general. And liberal black scholars are vocally opposed to her. It’s hard not to see this as an issue of information access just as that HuffPo editorial-let argues. What single demographic in the United States is less well-educated or has less access to modern information technology than old blacks? Poor blue-collar whites might be in competition, and there are a lot of those in the South too.

And this reinforces the depravity of the Democratic party. It invented the electability-policing Superdelegates and Super Tuesday in the conservative South in the 1980s to drive the nomination process toward the center. The Clintons are Southern Democrats, so is it so surprising that Southern Democrats are supporting them? It’s a bit of a self-fulling prophecy to make claims about unelectability of a liberal candidate in a system so clearly designed to favor centrist outcomes. This is a point that I won’t rehash — this other recent Huffington Post op-ed does a decent job of making the progressive case against Clinton. But it is interesting to see such celebration of black support as determining the primary when the majority of contests so far have been in the most conservative and least well-educated region of the country.

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