By Glynda C. Carr and Kimberly Peeler-Allen
Co-Founders, Higher Heights
November 8, 2015
With exactly 365 days until the 2016 election, Black women will once again take to the polls to cast their votes for the candidates of their choice and all eyes will be on this crucial voting bloc.
In the past two presidential cycles, Black women went to the polls in record number and voted at a higher rate than all other race and gender groups. Not only did Black women turn out at the highest numbers in 2008 and 2012, 96% of them voted for President Barack Obama.
Without President Obama at the top of the ticket, it is expected that Black women will stay home. Yes, the historic election of the first Black President created an enormous amount of excitement and enthusiasm among Black women across the country. His campaign invested resources into talking to and engaging Black women and they answered that call. They not only voted, but they activated their networks by hosting house parties, leading virtual phone banks, and raising money for his campaign.
Let’s take a moment and debunk the myth that Black women voters will only engage in the political process if President Obama is on the ballot. A quick look at Black women’s growing political power by the numbers reveals that Black women’s political participation is not a recent phenomenon. Black women have surpassed their male counterparts in every election since 1998 and have steadily increased their voter registration and turnout over the last four presidential election cycles. Since 2000, Black women have increased the number of eligible voters by 20.6% adding an additional 2.6 million voters. Today, there are more that 15 million eligible Black women voters.
Black women have demonstrated that they can turn out in a non-presidential election and vote for a candidate that is not President Obama nor a Black candidate. In 2013, an off-year election, turnout by Black women helped elect Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D). Like President of Obama, Governor McAuliffe lost the white women’s vote but overwhelmingly received the votes of women of color, particularly Black women.
Black women’s voting power extends beyond their influence in presidential elections. The 2014 Status of Black Women in American Politics report states that Black women have been the most reliable voters for Democratic members of Congress. According to the 2012 exit polls conducted in battleground states, 94% of Black women voted for Democratic Congressional winners and were a key component in U.S. Senate candidate victories including the re-election of Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tim Kaine (D-Va).
According to the report “Black Women in the United States, 2014: Progress and Challenges”, Black women continued to make up the most dynamic segment of the Rising American Electorate exceeding all other groups in turning out on Election Day 2014.The Road to 2016 provides an opportunity for Black women to flex their political power and growing influence on election outcomes from the top of the ballot down to congressional and local elections. Black women have demonstrated that they are the building blocks that form the foundation of a winning coalition.
Simply put: all eyes are on the Black women’s vote.
In the coming months, Democrats will look to Black women to secure their base, while Republicans will look for ways to gain ground among this group. Without President Obama at the top of the ticket, what is certain is that candidates will need to invest in mobilizing Black women in a meaningful way if they want to maintain their level of engagement in the overall turnout.
There is indeed a road map to sustain Black women’s political engagement post Obama. Candidates will need to make direct appeals on the issues most important to Black women and their communities. According to the recent poll conducted by Essence and Black Women’s Roundtable, The Power of the Sister Vote, Black women say they feel a strong responsibility to vote given their personal history in this country. The poll findings also indicated that candidates who focus on issues related to economic security, including increasing the minimum wage and improving relations between the Black community and law enforcement, are more likely to get the vote of Black women.
As we progress towards the 2016 election cycle, Black women are continuing to take an active interest in the political discussion and are planning to vote for candidates who are dedicated to addressing the issues that they care most about.
If candidates and campaigns decide to wait and invest millions of dollars into just a Get Out the Vote campaign to mobilize Black women, this will prove to be a losing strategy. When you invest in a Black Woman, she does not go to the polls alone. She brings her household, her block, her sorority and her church. A winning strategy leading into 2016 is to invest in engaging Black women in a meaningful way. And the countdown begins.