Schevon Salmon and his 2-year old daughter, Nyomi, celebrate President elect Joe Biden’s election win in Washington. File/AP
Many Democratic voters stumbled out of bed on Nov. 4 after an anguished night of wondering how polls predicting a comfortable Joe Biden lead had gone awry.
Wasn’t this election supposed to be a referendum on the president’s unpopularity? What about defections from suburban and older white women? Absentee ballot counting and polls suggested such defections were overstated.
The American Election Eve Poll of 15,200 registered voters, taken Oct. 23 to Nov. 2, found that 53% of white women cast their votes for Donald Trump, and only 45% for Biden.
The president got 59% of white men’s votes. But as the counts grew in Biden’s favour, another trend emerged: People of colour could be saving the Biden-Harris ticket. You got that message, if not explicitly, then in vote predictions for different states.
The Election Eve Poll, led by a consortium representing various demographic groups, questioned people who had already voted or were about to. The Biden-Harris ticket got the votes of 92% of Black women and 85% of Black men.
The lead holds with lower and higher-income Black voters and for those with and without college degrees. “Black voters are the backbone of Biden’s coalition,” concluded Henry Fernandez of the African-American Research Council, a participating group, in a Nov. 5 news conference.
“Without record Black turnout and support for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, this race would have been over two days ago.” The Washington Post reported that Black voters “may be saving Biden’s campaign.”
Trump on Nov. 5 claimed he’d received a historically high share of nonwhite votes for a Republican. Similar concerns from disparate groups: Support for Biden was mirrored with 70% of Latinx voters.
The only subgroup favouring Trump were South Florida’s anti-Communist Cuban Americans, 52% of whom voted for him. “Without the Latino community, this race would probably turn out very differently,” said Lorella Praeli, president of Community Change Action, at a news conference.
She attributes some of that support to the belief Biden will achieve immigration reform and a path to citizenship for those who currently have none, policies she says eight in 10 Latinx voters support.
Sixty-eight percent of Asian-American voters also supported Biden. These groups are not single issue or focused on identity politics. In fact, Trump’s mishandling of COVID-19 was the top issue cited by all groups, white and of colour, followed by the economy and jobs.
The third highest priority for every group but African-Americans was health care costs. Two in three Latino voters told pollsters the president ignored early warning signs about COVID-19, as did 67% of Asian American voters and 85% of Black voters; 24% of Latinos said they had lost jobs because of the virus, and 42% said their working hours were cut.
Many are in service and household jobs — meatpacking and agricultural work in Iowa — or have small businesses. And 89% want a national mask mandate which Trump refuses to issue. More than half of Black voters said they’d either had COVID or knew someone who did; 24% had lost a job because of it, compared with 15% of whites.
And 35% (compared with 28% of whites) had their working hours or pay cut; 19% of Black and Latinx respondents, and 13% of whites, had to close a business or end self-employment. Still, these health and economic hardships don’t tell the larger story, the one that may have cost Trump the most with minority voters. Most just don’t think the president cares for them.
That includes 56% of African Americans — 29% even feel the president is hostile to them. Only 24% of Asian Americans and 28% of Latinx Americans think he truly cares about them. But 81% of Black Americans, and lesser majorities of Asian and Latinx, believe Biden really cares about them. Significantly, Black support for him rose with his selection of Kamala Harris, who is Black and Indian American, as his running mate.
Racism influenced some votes: So if Trump wants to blame any group for ruining his election prospects, he’ll have to blame minorities. The blame is mutual. For Black voters, not surprisingly, the third-most-important issue this election is discrimination and racial justice. Black people are still disproportionately profiled and harassed by police, and discriminated in housing and jobs: 76% said racism and discrimination against Black people has increased in the past four years; 61%% said they or someone they know has been unfairly stopped or harassed by police; 94% support measures to hold police accountable.
“This election was a clear indication white supremacy is not accepted by Black voters,” said Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the national NAACP. Though African American and Latinx voters face some different challenges, these polls show an encouraging support for one another’s issues. Latinx voters voiced strong backing for more police accountability and reform, and 82% of Black voters support more humane treatment of immigrant detainees; 92% support a path to citizenship.
The LGBTQ population wasn’t part of this survey. But an exit poll by Edison Research Exit polling that canvassed nearly 16,000 found Biden got 61% of their votes. They interviewed voters outside of polling places, at early voting sites, or by phone. Notably, 7% of overall voters identified as LGBTQ, a record turnout, the pollsters say.
The election did bring some good news there. Nevada voters approved an LGBTQ rights ballot initiative and Democrats Mondaire Jones and Richie Torres of New York won election to Congress, becoming its first Black openly gay members.
“Over the last three elections, the share of LGBTQ voters has continued to increase, solidifying our community as a key rising constituency that politicians must court,” said Human Rights Campaign President David Alphonso.
He called this the most consequential election of a lifetime. There’s a potent message in these showings for both parties, but especially for Democrats. Minority support is vital to the party’s success. Going forward, the new administration must fight institutionalised racism in all sectors, when to even acknowledge its existence brings charges of offense from Republican elected officials.
And for all the support shown him by voters of colour, and vice versa, Biden carries some historical baggage for his part in past legislation that resulted in higher Black prison populations. Hopefully he’ll do more consulting with minority populations before signing onto any such bills now.
The bottom line is, Democrats and democracy got a big boost from communities of colour, but their support mustn’t be taken for granted, and their trust must be validated. They should be courted to be active and engaged parts of the next administration. Their needs and concerns should be listened to and prioritised. And with the power of the bully pulpit and every other tool at their disposal, a Biden-Harris administration must emulate the principles of equality and justice for all.
Rekha Basu, Tribune News Service
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