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Kanye West and the Case of the Missing 400,000 Black Male Votes

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At a concert in California, Kanye West told the crowd that “he hadn’t voted…but if he had he would have voted for Trump.”

West is a media provocateur and his utterances are primarily a useful indicator of what is most likely to push people’s buttons. But he’s not the only outlier.

The anti-Trump forces have consoled themselves with a post-election SNL monologue ripping Trump by contrarian African-American comic Dave Chapelle. Chapelle, however, concluded with the statement, anathema to the #NeverTrump #NotMyPresident “don’t normalize this monster” forces, “I’m going to give him a chance, and we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one, too.”

Interestingly, exit polls apparently showed a disconnect–perhaps a decisive disconnect–between black male and black female voters, not just in voting Democratic, but in voting for Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s support among black men and women both sagged, but black males abandoned her in larger numbers.

Disproportionately alienated by the Clinton agenda? Seduced by Trump’s alpha-male gilded swagger? Acting on misogynistic impulses? Or, more complexly, expressing their dissatisfaction with the intersectional narrative that placed black women, as the victims of multiple oppressions, at the center of the Democratic moral narrative and consciously sidelined black men? All of the above?

In any case, it’s a major problem because there is limited demographic upside to the African-American vote and black political activists can ill afford to lose the perceived ability to deliver any black votes if they wish to wield serious clout inside the Democratic Party. Shortcomings in delivering black male as well as white female voters are causing some serious heartache, if not serious reflection, for the female POC activists who were a big part of the Clinton campaign discourse both in the primaries and the general election, as well as concerned chinstroking for the DNC professionals.

By my back of the envelope calculation narrative, the Democrats lost 400,000 black male votes in 2016.

Not black males who didn’t vote. Not just black males who voted but did not vote for Hillary Clinton (that number is around 550,000 if exit polls are correct). That’s a net defection of black male votes within the bloc after correction for an overall sag in black support for Clinton among men and women.

I crunched some numbers and originally added them to my marathon Hamilton post, but I think they are interesting enough to excerpt here.

Unsurprisingly, black votes for Hillary Clinton dropped off both in absolute and percentage terms from the record-breaking turnout for Barack Obama. Compared to Obama in 2012, Clinton in 2016 saw a drop of 2% among women and a drop of 7% for black men. Back of the envelope, if one assumes 16 million African Americans voted and take the 2% drop among women as baseline for a Democratic candidate who was not Obama, black male turnout dropped an additional 5%. That amounts to roughly 400,000 votes that Secretary Clinton lost among black males, whether to Trump’s superior appeal (among black voters Trump did best among college educated males, winning 16% of their votes), generic misogyny or to more specific dissatisfaction with how the Clinton campaign targeted them.

In the state of Florida, Clinton lost by 20,000 votes; less than the lost black male vote which I roughed out at about 36,000. The “missing black men” could have been decisive in Michigan and Wisconsin, I think, but not Pennsylvania or Ohio. The Clinton electoral campaign failed in multiple dimensions but I imagine that within the Democratic Party the shortcomings of the POC activists in delivering their votes did not go unnoticed.

The Trump election may have been the last or next-to-last hurrah for the white conservative male bloc, whose plurality and political clout is slowly being eroded by the burgeoning membership of the “rainbow coalition”.

2016 may have also been the last best chance for the African American bloc to assert its claim to a dominant political role in national political life.

According to the Census Bureau projection, by 2060 African American share of population will increase from 12.2% to 14.3%. Big loser: non-Hispanic whites drop from 62.2% to 43.6%. Big mover: Hispanic share increases from 17.4% to 28.6% of total US population. That’s a 65% increase.

The African American political problem is that its contribution to the Democratic Party is pretty much maxed out. 80% of African Americans already identify as Democrats according to Pew, which now translates into 22% of Democratic affiliation. Currently, African Americans are the second largest bloc after non-Hispanic whites (60%) but that looks likely to change.

Hispanics are 3rd in the Democratic Party at 13% and have two potential upsides. The first is straight demographic growth would lead to Hispanics pulling even with African Americans as the second largest bloc if the current breakdown of Democrats was simply reweighted to take in account national demographic growth. Secondly, there are a lot of Hispanic independents out there (16% of “independents” are Hispanics, compared to 8% of African Americans) and only 56% of Hispanics currently identify with the Democratic Party.

The sizable bloc of Hispanics outside the Democratic Party once gave hope to GOP strategists, but thanks to Trump it looks like the chances of luring a decisive number of Hispanics into the Republican Party are slim for the time being. It would seem more likely Hispanics will be more inclined to join the Democratic Party, and this trend could become a self-reinforcing cycle as Hispanics become the second-largest group in the Democratic Party and it becomes identified as the home of Hispanic political clout.

Bottom line is, by 2060 there will be 60 million African Americans and 120 million Hispanics. Assume that translates into 20 million African American voters and 40 million Hispanic voters. If, rather unrealistically, the Democrats get 100% of African Americans to vote Democratic, up from 80%, that increases the black vote bank by 4 million votes and that’s literally the end of the line. If, more realistically, it boosts Hispanic affiliation from 56% to 66%, that’s 4 million votes right there, with plenty of potential upside remaining. Every additional % point: another 400,000 votes.

Because of the lure of the growing Hispanic bloc and the inevitable need to cater to it in the matter of policy and appointments, African Americans face the threat of re-assuming the status of “the bloc that the Democrats take for granted”, with the aggravating factor of “it’s not even going to be the second largest bloc in a few years.” 2016 was, if not the last, one of the last chances that the African American bloc had to show it could be a king/queenmaker in the Democratic Party, and it came up short.

Now the DNC is looking at Plan B–reaching out to conservative whites–by which I mean globalization-averse whites with an economic-nationalist tilt– via Sanders and, I would guess, planning its Hispanic outreach–and this accounts, I think, for the special level of desperate fury I see from POC activists on my Twitter timeline.

Following the election catastrophe, African American ambitions of “leading the Obama coalition” and acting as gatekeeper/king or queenmaker have taken a sizable knock and is the topic of much furious invective on the Internet right now, especially in terms of rebutting Sandernista claims to superior general election viability and a place at the DNC table.
Identity politics is not DOA, however.

Despite the 2016 meltdown of identity politics, Sandernista socialism-lite, even with its electoral appeal, is apparently still less attractive to the DNC elite than the identity politics coalition that is neoliberal/globalization/free market friendly and a welcoming destination for the Soros/Democratic Alliance billions that are needed to run an effective national campaign nowadays.

The DNC electoral model will probably require $2 billion, much of it from billionaire activist/philanthropists in the George Soros vein, to contest the 2020 presidential election. A Bernie Sanders soak-the-billionaire small donor political posture will probably be hard-pressed to raise one-tenth of that figure.

Divide-and-rule identity politics that respect and secure billionaire interests will, I think, prevail.

So I suspect intersectional identity politics will survive as the central narrative of the Democratic Party in presidential campaigns.

However, African-American political clout may have reached its high-water mark.

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Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

CounterPunch Magazine

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