In 2012, 93 % of voting black Americans voted for Barack Obama and were instrumental in his victory, but it is highly unlikely that Hillary Clinton will simply be able to inherit this kind of support. However, it does look like she is shoring up more support among black voters than both her Republican and Democratic opponents.
Written by Gitte Nielsen
As Obama’s loyal Secretary of State, Hillary gained back some of the sympathy she lost among black Americans when she fought Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2008. We should also not forget that Hillary is married to Bill, the man whom black author Toni Morrison once called “the first black American president.”
Overall, Bill Clinton may in fact have been the most popular American president among black citizens until Obama happened, and of course this does not hurt his wife’s image with black voters.
The black vote
Since kicking off her campaign, several of Hillary’s messages have been aimed directly at black voters. The most significant one was revealed last week when she called for the mandatory registration of all voters by the age of 18 and for an expansion of early voting.
In 2013, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court, allowing states that historically discriminated against minorities to impose voting restrictions, such as requiring voter ID. Studies have shown that the voter fraud which these restrictions are supposed to prevent barely exists and that such restrictions predominantly affect minority voters.
Because black voters predominantly vote Democratic, Hillary’s voting rights proposal will mostly benefit herself and her party, and the proposal is a clever way to energize the black base and challenge her Republican opponents at the same time. She has bluntly asked Republicans why they do not want all Americans to be able to vote, and her proposal could be quite difficult for Republicans to fight if they do not want to be seen as wanting to restrict minority voting.
Asking for reforms
Clinton also argues for criminal justice reform, another area that disproportionately affects black Americans. In a recent speech she mentioned the many police killings of unarmed black men and stated that “…from Ferguson to Staten Island to Baltimore, the patterns have been unmistakable and undeniable.” She is also one of the few presidential candidates to utter the words “Black Lives Matter”, the slogan of the protests against perceived police brutality.
Whether Clinton’s embrace of the protests and push for criminal justice reform is genuine or opportunistic matters little at this point since her stance would presumably sit well with black voters. After all, black Americans are disproportionately stopped, arrested, and imprisoned as compared to white Americans.
Hillary’s Democratic opponents
Finally, among the four prominent Democratic presidential candidates – Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chaffey being the other three – Hillary might have an easier time drawing a good deal of black voter support once the primaries begin next January.
Granted, Chaffey, the former governor of Rhode Island, signed legislation to protect minorities, but for now he barely registers on the scale as a viable candidate. O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, supported aggressive Broken Windows policing while in office and has been accused of laying the foundation of the Baltimore riots that broke out in April.
Finally, Sanders, a senator from Vermont, hardly talks about minority issues, if at all, and his base is overwhelmingly white. He primarily focuses on his main topic, economic inequality and unemployment, which of course could also appeal to poor black Americans, but he does not discuss police brutality or criminal justice reform directly, at least not yet, which may hurt his chances for significant black support.
Therefore, Hillary’s fight for the black vote for now focuses less on the other Democratic candidates and more on keeping black voters away from her potential Republican opponents. Much can – and will – of course happen yet in this election, but so far, so good.
Gitte Nielsen holds an MA in American Studies from the University of Southern Denmark. Her studies included a semester at Ohio University where she studied, among other things, Critical Race Theory. She runs her own website where she writes articles in Danish that primarily deal with racial issues in the US. On occasion she has also contributed analyses of current events on Radio24Syv and TV2 News. Previously, she was a freelance writer for Danish website Kongressen.com, and she contributed a chapter to the book “Fem år med Obama”. You may visit her website at http://usaidag.com and follow her on Twitter: @gitten.