Advocates are urging political leaders to prioritize Black male voters to keep them from staying home on Election Day 2024.
The demographic, some say, is too often overlooked and their concerns dismissed.
“There’s never been a point where Black men’s issues were put front and center for any political party in a real way,” said Mondale Robinson, founder of the Black Male Voter Project.
Too often, Robinson said, candidates show up to speak to Black men when an election is looming but disappear after the ballots are counted. As a result, many Black men feel the campaign is nothing more than transactional.
“These brothers don’t see themselves represented or cared about in the political space,” Robinson told The Hill. “They don’t hear people screaming about what’s important to them.”
This could be part of the reason why Black men vote less often.
In 2022, a poll by KFF and theGrio found that Black voters are not only more likely to be older, but that 57 percent of Black voters are women who have identified some of their top issues as the economy, racism and gun violence.
These concerns don’t differ much from Black men’s concerns, said Waikinya Clanton, Mississippi state office director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Black men are suffering from higher unemployment rates; Black men are struggling to figure out how to feed their families; they are figuring out how to show up and be supportive of their community,” Clanton told The Hill.
But the Democratic Party is not speaking to these issues.
Instead, Democrats’ focus recently has been on issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights, said Darryn Harris, former chief of staff to former Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and a candidate for California state Senate.
But Republicans are speaking to the issues on the minds of Black men — and that’s why they’ve been doing better with the demographic in recent elections, Harris said.
While more than 60 percent of eligible Black voters cast their ballots in 2020, that dropped in 2022, and former President Donald Trump saw his support among Black voters increase from 8 percent in 2016 to 12 percent in 2020, exit polling from Edison Research found.
“What the Republicans do well is their messaging around the economy,” said Harris, adding that inflation is still soaring and a minimum wage law has not yet passed. “Republicans are talking about the economy and talking about upward mobility within their communities, and I think that message resonates very strongly with Black men.”
It’s not only resonating with Black voters, but Black leaders as well.
In 2020, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) was elected to Congress and was a candidate for House Speaker last month. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only Black Republican in the upper chamber, launched a presidential campaign, though he suspended it this week.
Some state leaders who identified as Democrats changed their party affiliation. In July, Georgia state Rep. Mesha Mainor, who represents part of Atlanta, defected to the Republican Party. In September, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson announced he was switching his affiliation from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.
A New York Times/Siena College poll found that 22 percent of Black voters in six battleground states said they would support former President Trump in next year’s election.
But these numbers are doubtful to some.
“The idea that 20 percent of Black men are going to support Trump — that was borne out of Trump saying that he’s gonna get 20 percent,” said Robinson. “They said the same thing about [former President George W. Bush]. Twenty percent of Black men supporting Republicans never bears out.”
Robinson said polls such as these are flawed, in part because the questions being asked are not framed in culturally competent ways.
For instance, he said, Black men might say they agree with more public safety, which many in political spaces equate to more support for police officers.
“But if you dive deep with this demographic of Black men, they’re going to look at you like you’re crazy if you say they need more police officers, because their definition of public safety is that they need to be policed like white people,” said Robinson. “In order to police Black men like white people, you need far less police officers, so the idea is actually closer to defunding the police.”
Still, the Biden campaign has tried to share the wins the president has made by launching radio ads across Black-owned stations in battleground states.
But Harris said this type of engagement — along with barbershop stops — is overplayed.
“Folks want to see the Biden campaign engaged in their community,” he said. “I think that day one, right after they were sworn in, they should have been setting up grassroots captains in some of these targeted areas just to maintain a relationship with the voter.”
“What will really get to Black men is old-fashioned knocking on doors and meeting voters where they are at,” he added. “That can be through phone banking, that can be through text messaging. I think that folks are looking for the White House to have a deeper relationship with folks.”
But another issue Clanton said that keeps popping up is the “savior complex” from leaders.
“Often we make the mistake of going out into the community and talking at people, being accusatory in a tone when we’re speaking to them,” said Clanton. “We have to stop approaching communities with this savior complex and really get to the heart of what’s going on. The problem is very seldom the people, but the promise that people have made that have been defaulted on.”
Harris said Democrats — and Biden in particular — need to up their messaging ahead of 2024 if they want to mobilize Black men.
“The Democrats have an easy job: [They] have the base already. It’s just like, brand up those issues and promote those issues that are plaguing our community and show up,” he said.
Black men are more critical of the Democratic Party, Harris said, in part because of the promises they make but fail to keep.
“It’s not that Democrats are losing Black men to the Republican Party,” he said, adding that Black men don’t trust Republicans, in part because of their struggles to speak on racial justice issues. “Black men are just going to start sitting at home and just watch the polls. Democrats are not giving us what we want, [and] Republicans are racist. Both parties are not good for us.”