Bernie Sanders Is Trying to Connect With Young Black Voters, but It Might Be Too Late

March 7th 2016

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders struggles to woo Black voters, but his prospects brighten when it comes to Igolo Obi and other young Black millennials.

“I feel like Bernie Sanders is the change that we’ve been waiting for for a long time,” said the 20-year-old University of Chicago student. “I know he has a history of being on the right side of issues, so that’s important to me.”

Despite support from voters like Obi, Sanders has been demolished by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when it comes to getting Black votes, and she enjoys more popularity in the Black community. On Saturday Sanders lost big in Louisiana, a Southern state with a large Black population, exactly the type of electorate profile that Sanders has struggled with. 

But while most Black voters have not supported Sanders at the polls so far, those who do are more likely to come from the under-30 crowd. Exit polling data from nine Super Tuesday states compiled by NBC News shows the disparity between young Black voters and their older counterparts when it comes to support for the Vermont Senator:

Black Voters By Age Exit PollingNBC News - nbcnews.com

Support for Clinton was highest among Black voters 60 and older, with 92 percent voting for the former Secretary of State, NBC News reported. Sixty-one percent of Black voters younger than 30 support Clinton, according to NBC, but “Sanders made inroads with these younger voters overall, getting about four in 10 of their votes.”

Michael Dawson, a leading scholar on race and politics from the University of Chicago, told ATTN: that Black millennials aren’t as swayed by Clinton’s largely successful attempts to connect with Black voters across generations. He said that Clinton’s relationships with an older generation of Black clergy, politicians, and Civil Rights heroes carries less weight with young Blacks than with their elders. Dawson explains:

“More importantly, I think that generally when you look at Sanders support, the country is not working well for young people, particularly for young Black people right now; they’re looking more toward a candidate who will shake things up significantly.”

Cultural anthropologist and millennial marketing expert Joseph Anthony told Fast Company that Clinton benefits from "the Clinton brand that was favorable to African-Americans in the '90s," when Bill Clinton was president, but that many young voters don’t have the same nostalgic connection to that era that the 40-and-over crowd might.

President Bill ClintonWikimedia - wikimedia.org

The success Clinton has had with Black voters of all ages isn't simply about Black people loving Bill Clinton, or about Clinton's friends in the Black political establishment. There is skepticism about Sanders' background that Dawson said has been reinforced by the perception that he is sometimes tone deaf when talking about race, despite taking a more race-specific approach recently. Dawson said there is also solidarity among some Black women who think a female president is way overdue.

Clinton won seven of the 11 states that voted on Super Tuesday. Her margin of victory was largest in Alabama and Georgia, two states with relatively large Black populations; Sanders performed best in Vermont and Minnesota, which are predominantly white.

Yet the turnout in the primaries so far suggests to Dawson that "Black voters are not enthused by either candidate, but are more comfortable with the flawed but known quantity that Clinton represents."

hillary-clinton-in-nevadaAP/John Locher - apimages.com

A story in The New York Times on Wednesday emphasized the huge decline in Democratic turnout since 2008 and 2012, when people flocked to the polls for President Barack Obama, especially among Blacks, Latinos, and young voters:

"Even Mrs. Clinton’s strong victory in South Carolina, which was celebrated for her dominance among African-American voters, obscured a decline in Black turnout of about 40 percent. In Iowa, where Mrs. Clinton eked out a narrow win after a hotly fought battle with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, exit polls suggested that turnout for voters under the age of 30 dropped by roughly 40 percent from 2008."

This U.S. Uncut chart created with data gathered by The New York Times shows how overall voter turnout has been in decline, among all Democratic voters, compared to 2008.

U.S. Uncut Chart From NY Times Data Showing Voter Turnout Decline U.S. Uncut - usuncut.com

Dawson said Sanders can only reverse his fortunes if he can figure out a way to inspire greater turnout among youth and non-white voters and find a more effective way to connect with the Black community. Sanders could shake things up by sweeping some of the large states coming up, but Dawson said his weakness with Blacks, and to a lesser extent Latinos, will make it difficult. From his perspective, it’s looking too late in the race for Sanders to make significant enough gains with Blacks and Latinos to help him overcome Clinton’s lead in delegates.

“He could pull off California,” Dawson said. “But even California might not be enough at this point. I think it could be too little and too late.”

Bernie Sanders responds to a question at a forum for Black AmericansKyle Sando / ATTN

Mother Jones wrote that things will likely get worse for Sanders before they get better.

"Because of the way the primary map is drawn, Clinton's best states — basically, Southern states with high African-American populations — will all have voted by the middle of March. After Kansas, Nebraska, and Louisiana vote on Saturday (where the prospects are good, good, and very bad for Sanders, respectively), he'll hit a brutal two-week stretch in which 980 delegates will be awarded in Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. Clinton is the clear favorite in almost all of those states."

Saturday's election results went exactly how Mother Jones and others predicted, with Sanders taking Kansas and Nebraska while Clinton won Louisiana. Turnout in Kansas was reported as a record high. Sunday on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Sanders appeared optimistic about his campaign's prospects over the next three months as primary season touches other states, including Michigan, where there’s a primary contest Tuesday with 147 delegates up for grabs.

"We think we have an excellent chance to do well out on the West Coast in California, state of Washington, Oregon," he told Stephanopoulos. "We think we have an excellent chance to do well in large states like New York. We think we're going to surprise people here in Michigan."

Sanders and Clinton will both have an opportunity to address issues facing Black Americans when they debate on Sunday, March 6, in Flint, Mich., a predominantly Black town that had its water supply poisoned because of a state and local government plan to switch to a cheaper source.

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