by John Colby
Much e-ink has already been spilled dissecting the Alabama U.S. Senate results from last night. The question before Alabama voters ultimately came down to this: which is worse, a pro-choice Democrat, or a racist with a history of sexually assaulting children?
With the cheers coming from Democratic circles, one might think that the voters made the obvious choice. However, the results inform us that 650,436 Alabama voters – 48.4 percent of those who voted – were perfectly fine with the latter choice.
In fact, according to CNN’s exit poll, a whopping 72 percent of white men voted for Roy Moore, a man who has previously stated that all amendments to the United States Constitution after 10 were a bad idea (this includes amendments banning slavery, allowing blacks to vote, and allowing women to vote). 63 percent of white women supported Moore, despite his having been removed from the bench twice for violating the constitution. Combined, 68 percent of white voters supported Roy Moore, ignoring evidence of a long history of sexually assaulting girls as young as 14 – to the point of being banned from shopping malls.
Looking back to 2016, this really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. President Donald Trump had been caught on tape multiple times sexually harassing women, and bragging about sexually assaulting women. In light of numerous women who stepped forward then to tell their stories of Trump’s disdain for women through sexual harassment and assault, 62percent of white men, and 52percent of white women, voted for Donald Trump. Combined, 57 percent of white people elected Donald Trump.
Of course, when we look at the data, we see another stark contrast: black voters are how Democrats are winning elections (in Virginia and Alabama) and the popular vote (in 2016). Especially Black Women. 98 percent of black women in Alabama cast their ballots for Doug Jones. Turnout among black women was especially high this year, pushing the share of the vote to 17 percent (with 11 percent of ballots being cast by black men, 31 percent by white women, and 35 percent by white men).
There are those who are already trying to whitewash this phenomenon. By pointing to Mobile County, a traditionally “Business Republican” stronghold for the GOP, some will tell you this win was because of moderate Republicans (and they’re not entirely wrong). Others note that total write-ins came to 1.7 percent – just over the margin of victory for Doug Jones – with higher write-in numbers coming from heavily Republican counties (also part of the story).
But at the end of the day, the voters who are saving the Democratic Party aren’t so-called “Berniecrats,” and sure as hell are not Democratic Socialists, who saw leaders writing op-eds encouraging people to not vote for Doug Jones. Black women, who often experience the brunt of bad policy from the GOP, have come out in large numbers, and overwhelmingly supporting Democrats, becoming the key to Democrats winning elections in many parts of the country.
Had turnout among black women dropped just a few points in Alabama, for instance, Roy Moore would be the next U.S. Senator from Alabama. It turns out the base of the Democratic Party isn’t a socialist from Vermont, but black and brown women who may well have a different take on priorities for their communities and families.
So, what does this really mean? Since the election of Donald Trump, there have been many who have stated that Democrats’ path to victory is through Bernie Sanders, and his brand of economic populism. Sen. Sanders himself has come out stating that “identity politics” is a driver of Democratic losses. But the proof is in the pudding.
From Virginia to Minnesota to Alabama, Democrats that are winning – especially in more rural areas – are Democrats who embrace our diversity, and who come with a platform that explicitly seeks to improve the quality of life for black and brown communities. Advancing agendas that proudly support closing the gender pay gap and racial disparities in education are winning agendas.
Doing so with candidates from the communities that need equitable investment, it turns out, is also a winning strategy.
Black women have saved the State of Alabama from electing a child predator. However, elected officials cannot continue to rely on black women without actually producing results. Democratic elected officials – especially at the state and local level – must turn this support into actionable policies. And by working with communities, not telling them what they need, these investments can be more sustainable, meeting the long-term needs of current and future generations.
Democrats have an opportunity to grow majorities in urban areas, and take majorities and state houses across the country. But to fully embrace this, they must elevate voices from the community, and build trust with community organizations in black and brown neighborhoods. By supporting black women, Latinas, AAPI women, and Native women, Democrats can not only run the tables on elections, but put our country on track to achieve greater equity and equality in the halls of power.
This will require white men to take supporting roles, and to be ready to work with other white men on taking supporting roles. And by doing so, our society at large will all benefit.
Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to DonkeyHotey