Will Kamala Harris Increase Turnout Among Black Voters?

Kamala Harris speaking with a voter
Senator Kamala Harris (CA), Democratic vice presidential nominee for the 2020 election.

Last Friday, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris hosted a drive-in rally at Morehouse College, a historically Black school.

On Saturday, she visited Cleveland, where she gave a rousing shout-out to Rep. Marcia Fudge, D- Ohio, a former Congressional Black Caucus chair.

Sunday, she spoke at the service at the Triumph Church in a Detroit suburb. She also urged people to vote early in a video message just before the Soul of the Nation Gospel Concert.

Harris is pushing hard to get out the Black vote, and voters and analysts see evidence that the first woman of color on a major-party presidential ticket could make a difference in some of the nations’ most closely contested swing states.

The California senator, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, campaigns before all sorts of constituencies. But she has been appearing frequently recently before groups of Black voters who say they appreciate the history they’re witnessing.

“The opportunity that Black women, who are arguably the Democratic Party’s most loyal electorate, have had to see themselves reflected within Biden’s campaign is powerful,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, an online organization that advocates for racial justice.

Having Harris as a vice presidential candidate “means a lot to us,” said A’Shanti Gholar, president of Emerge America, a Democratic women’s network.

Black turnout could be critical. Turnout spiked in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama ran for president, and then dropped significantly in 2016, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Higher turnout, particularly for Democrats, could make a difference in swing states.

One example is Georgia, where 30% of voters were Black in 2016, according to network exit polls.

This is an electorate motivated in several ways: a popular Black U.S. Senate candidate, often bitter disdain for President Donald Trump, and lingering anger over the 2018 gubernatorial election.

In that election, Stacey Abrams, the Black former Georgia House minority leader, narrowly lost to Gov. Brian Kemp. Abrams and her supporters had serious questions about how the election was run.

Harris adds a sense of history, particularly in a state where Blacks have long faced obstacles casting ballots.

“I do think that she’s getting a lot of Black voters out, a lot of Black female voters,” said Kenneth Sanders, 52, a retired transportation supervisor from Macon.

In 2016, Blacks went 89% to 9% for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump won whites 75% to 21%.

Biden got 89% of the Black vote in an Oct. 8 to 12 Quinnipiac University Georgia poll, but Trump sank to 3%. Biden’s overall lead was 51% to 44%.

Several factors are at work, said Chris Grant, chairman of the political science department at Mercer University in Macon.

Grant said it helps that the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a popular pastor, has a serious chance of winning a Senate seat. And the memories of Abrams, who remains politically active, are fresh.

Trump is also a big motivator. “It’s not the skin color. I just feel like Trump is not doing what he should be doing and can do,” said Harriett Taylor, 58, who cares for the elderly.

Lucille Williams, 59, who works in sales in Macon, was particularly disturbed at how Trump is dealing with the coronavirus.

“He’s downplaying it. He’s just looking out for (him)self. And he’s still putting people at risk,” she said.

Harris is not a factor in her decision, she said. “Whether (she) would have been African American or white, you know, with Biden, I would’ve still been out voting. It doesn’t matter who the vice presidential candidate would have been, I would have still been here to vote.”

Harris unquestionably stirs excitement among many Black voters, however, particularly younger ones.

She made her first campaign visit to Georgia last week, and at the Atlanta airport talked about the constituency she wanted to reach.

“We’re looking at Atlanta which has a very significant black community, and one in 1,000 black people in America have died because of this (COVID-19) pandemic,” she said.

When asked about Trump, Harris said: ” Donald Trump, who is referring to Black men, Black women, by women by words I will not repeat here, and I’m not talking about myself, I’m talking about others.

” Donald Trump, who refers to countries on the continent as shithole countries. Donald Trump, who in the last debate stood on a debate stage and refused to condemn white supremacists, and not only did that, didn’t stop there, he said stand back and stand there,” Harris said.

The crowd was appreciative. Before she left, she was elbow-bumping participants.

Later, Harris was the main event at a drive-in rally at Morehouse, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater.

“Coming to Atlanta, and especially if you are Black and hold elected office in America, coming to Atlanta is like coming back to the womb,” she told the appreciative audience.

State Rep. Miriam Paris, D- Macon, said the impact of Black sororities should not be discounted. Harris is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, one of the “Divine Nine” Black sororities, groups where women have bonded for years.

Harris joined AKA at Howard University, where the sorority was founded in 1908.

Those ties “bring out a lot more people who may say ‘I don’t have to turn out,”‘ Paris said.

The notion that a black woman could become president is a powerful motivator, said Sanders, the Macon voter.

“I think that the urban females are coming out, and I think that has a positive influence on getting the males involved. … They (women) can influence our men to get out and vote also,” he said.

In 2016, Black women were 19% of the Georgia electorate, exit polls found, and they voted 94% for Clinton, far more than the 83% of Black men who backed her.

And now there’s Harris. For many voters, said Color of Change’s Robinson, that’s “invigorating.”


(Article written by David Lightman and Joe Kovac Jr.)