This election shows Democrats are not doomed after all
The New York Times released a poll on Monday showing Donald Trump beating Joe Biden in several key states, and progressives across the country started to panic. The next day, actual voters in actual states cast actual ballots, and suddenly Democratic prospects don’t look nearly as bleak. In state after state, Democrats and progressives swept to victory, affirming the findings from decades of demographic and electoral data showing that the majority of Americans prefer the more multiracial and inclusive vision of Democrats to the angry and punitive policies of the Republicans.
At the heart of the Times poll was the suggestion that African Americans and Latinos were gravitating in large and significant numbers to support Trump. According to the poll, 71% of Black voters and just 50% of Latinos backed Biden. If accurate, those numbers would represent a historic collapse of Democratic support among people of color. Since exit polling by racial groups began in 1976, African Americans have supported the Democratic nominee for president with 88% of their votes, on average. In 2020, Biden got 87% of the Black vote, and in the 2022 midterms, Democratic candidates received 86% of the Black vote. As for Latinos, Biden secured 65% support in 2020.
Rather than question the findings of a poll that contradicted decades of prior electoral evidence, much of the media ran with the findings and prophesied doom for Democrats. But then a funny thing happened on the way to a second Trump administration. Voters went to the polls this week and elected Democratic candidates and passed progressive policies.
In Kentucky, a state Trump won by 26 points, the Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, handily defeated the Trump acolyte Daniel Cameron. The fact that Cameron is African American and yet still performed poorly undermines the narrative that Black voters are donning Maga hats in large numbers. As the professor Jason Johnson tweeted on Tuesday: “Cameron is a Black Republican candidate w/ Trump’s endorsement in a deeply Red State and he’s going to lose. Can we stop w/ the ‘Trump is gaining ground with black voters’ narrative? Because this should’ve been the test case.”
There is literally no state more historically intertwined with the Black experience in America than Virginia. It is where Africans were first brought in 1619, and it was the capital of the Confederacy during the civil war. In 2021, the Republican Glenn Youngkin won the gubernatorial election, and his party flipped control of the house of delegates, occasioning a spate of articles about the shifting political tides in the commonwealth. But activists and organizers led by groups such as New Virginia Majority steadily registered and mobilized voters of color in large numbers, resulting in Democrats maintaining control of the state senate and recapturing a majority in the house of delegates. Come January, in the same building where the Confederates attempted to organize their white nationalist rebellion, an African American, Don Scott, will become the speaker of the house.
In Ohio, a state carried twice by Trump, Democrats backed a pro-choice ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to give individuals the “right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions”. The measure swept to a resounding victory, 57% to 43%. Buckeye state Black voters supported the amendment with 83% of their ballots, sharply refuting the premise that Black support for progressive causes is dissipating.
Other states and cities also rode the progressive wave this week, with Democrats winning a contest for a seat on the Pennsylvania state supreme court and also prevailing in a key race in Allegheny county.
This week’s election results affirm a few fundamental truths about American politics. Truths proven by this week’s results and nearly 50 years of electoral results, annual census reports and biennial exit polls.
There is no more immutable law of politics than the fact that African Americans overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. This is less the result of a particular partisan affinity than the logical reaction to the reality that the fuel of the Republican political machine is white racial rage and resentment. No Democratic nominee has received less than 83% of the Black vote. In terms of African Americans, the question is not who they will vote for, but whether they will vote. That is the real challenge facing progressives in 2024. And that relates to the second fundamental truth, the changing composition of the country’s electorate and the implications for political contests.
In the 1960s, people of color comprised just 12% of the US population. Today, the nation is far more racially diverse, with 41% of the population identifying as people of color as the demographic revolution continues apace. In a country defined by the ongoing existential battle over whether this will be a white nationalist society or a multiracial democracy, the majority of people reject the idea of making America white again. Most people in America prefer the Democrats’ vision of a multiracial America (however halfheartedly it may be expressed at times) to the raw, unapologetic white nationalism espoused in coded and not-so-coded ways by Republicans. With the sole exception of the 2004 presidential election, the Democratic nominee has won the popular vote in every single presidential election over the past 30 years.
Republicans understand this reality better than Democrats which is why they ferociously focus on suppressing the vote far more than Democrats emphasize expanding voting. From Florida to Texas to Georgia, Republican legislatures and governors have passed draconian laws designed to make it harder to vote.
The most important lesson coming out of this week’s election (beyond ignoring aberrant polling data from august institutions) is that maximizing voter turnout is the key to victory. Biden and the entire progressive movement must both inspire the multiracial New American Majority by fighting for unapologetically social justice policies and also invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the kind of voter turnout machine required to surmount suppression and manifest the power of the true majority.
Steve Phillips is the founder of Democracy in Color and author of Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority and How We Win the Civil War: Securing a Multiracial Democracy and Ending White Supremacy for Good