US 2020 election: Trump vs Biden and the African-American vote
In the second part of our series on the US election, the FT's Peter Spiegel and Rana Foroohar analyse how the Black Lives Matter movement, employment and the issue of voter suppression will affect the African-American vote, and Donald Trump and Joe Biden's chances of winning the White House
Executive Producer: Vanessa Kortekaas. Editor: Gregory Bobillot. Graphics Designer: Russell Birkett. Producer: Ben Marino. Camera Operators: Donell Newkirk and Oluwakemi Aladesuyi. Data Analysis: Christine Zhang.
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All right, Rana, in our tour of battleground states for November this time I want to talk about four states. So I've got again, all won by Trump; Pennsylvania, Michigan, and then go to the south and talk about North Carolina and Georgia, and why these four? I want to talk about the African-American vote.
Obviously, since the George Floyd killing it's been a huge front page of the agenda. But this is something I have a bit of a pet theory about this, which I've been advocating for since the 2016 election, which is to talk first about the industrial north. There is this narrative that Trump won in 2016 because of the angry, working-class white guy, right, and that's what put him over the top.
I really think it is as much about Democrats, the Obama coalition not showing up. So Obama got 70m votes in 2008. Hillary got 66m. Four million Democrats didn't show up. And a lot of that is because democratic turnout didn't show up in these two states.
African-Americans voted in lower numbers and voted in many cases, not many cases at least more for Trump than they did for Obama rival. So let's start in Michigan, Pennsylvania.
I'll also point out with Joe Biden's sunglasses that he's actually from...
He is leading, actually he's leading in all four states now. So in polls, he's up in Michigan by a lot.
Love those sunglasses.
He's up in Georgia marginally, up in North Carolina marginally, solid south. But let's start with the north...
...because this is economics, but Covid as well.
And that's obviously your area of expertise. So talk a bit about the industrial northeast and the African-American vote.
So I like your thesis. I mean, I think that this is about a kind of a falling down white population. We'll get to that in another episode. But in terms of getting the black votership out, getting minorities to come and show up for Obama and for that kind of Clintonian wing of the party of which Obama, it must be said, was part, particularly when it comes to economics.
I mean, he had many of the same economic advisers: Larry Summers, Bob Rubin.
Yeah, Gene Sperling. A lot of these folks, you know, were part of that Clintonian wing of the party. And I think that those two things are actually related. Let me just first note that there are a lot of African-Americans during the last great migration. We're having sort of a great migration right now, which we'll talk about.
But during the first great migration in the 30s from the south to the north, a lot of African-Americans ended up in factory jobs in, you know, good-paying unionised factory jobs...
Detroit, Pittsburgh, yeah.
...in states like this, in cities like you're pointing out. And those are the jobs that have really been hollowed out in the last couple of decades. Now why is that? I think that a lot of that is down to the choices that were made by that Clintonian wing of the party and in particular neo-liberalism.
Should I do factories?
Factories, you could do factories. And, you know, part of the bargain, the Washington consensus, was that we were going to have a neo-liberal economic agenda that capital, goods, and people were going to be able to fly over the nation states wherever they wanted to go. This all sounds very...
That's a car.
I don't know.
It's just a car-car.
But also, you know, dollars, capital can go wherever it wants. Jobs stay on the ground. And in particular, union jobs came under pressure with deals like Nafta, with China coming into the WTO. That all happened the last 20 years.
I can imagine if I were a middle-class African-American voter working in Detroit, I would kind of be scratching my head. You know, the Clintons, are they really for me? Are they protecting my job?
And Hillary didn't have that kind of good-old-boys southern feel that was very attractive in the south, amongst African-American votes. She was from Chicago, and there was just not that enthusiasm for her the way there was for Bill.
Right, you know, it's interesting because I'm going back in my mind to 2016 and I'm seeing her in the first debate with Trump. And the minute he hit her on Nafta, I thought, oh, gosh, she's toast, because I thought this is the thing.
Those jobs, white black workers, it doesn't matter. It's very, very hard to change the fact that a bet was made that America was going to go up the sort of, you know, economic pyramid. That we were going to let those jobs go, so that we could all be software developers and bankers.
Guess what? That didn't turn out so well.
Yes, or for journalists for that matter, yeah.
Let me talk about one other element of the black vote that we can't let go, which is the Black Lives Matter movement.
And again, we saw a big uptick in black voter turnout in 2018 after Ferguson. But I guess the question is to what extent is Black Lives Matter a movement that could become a voter turnout operation?
Because I think sometimes it's hard to translate one into the other. One is very much a grassroots from the bottom up. People showing up through social media. The other one is traditional get out the vote, set up an infrastructure, get people in vans to the poll. What do you think that Black Lives Matter will mean on election day in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania?
I love this question, not only for these states, but frankly, for the entire country. Because to me, this is a matter of does a movement towards racial justice in America turn into a movement towards class justice? And there's a ton of overlap between those things, right?
I mean, we've learned that during Covid. Covid has been like a scrim that's been pulled back showing us all these truths that we're there. So you have a population of minority service workers that are in these $15 an hour jobs.
Sometimes they're working two or three jobs. They can't make ends meet. That is a class issue, as well as a race issue. How do those things connect?
That's a great point.
You know, it's funny. I've been reading MLK last book, From Chaos to Community, and it feels like it could have been written yesterday. It's about universal basic income. It's about healthcare. It's about how do we create sustainable communities?
So I feel like we're at a tipping point. And when I look out, you know, I'll just say something personal. My own daughter has been very involved in the Black Lives Matter movement marching. You see a lot of younger, affluent white supporters of this movement.
I sometimes wonder, yes, they're in it for racial justice. But I feel like they're also protesting in some way, maybe not even completely front of mind, yet the system in which they're coming out with $30,000 of student debt. They've got lower prospects than the boomer generation.
I think that we are about to connect those two things.
All right, just so everyone knows, these numbers I put on, these are electoral votes. The big prize in this group is Pennsylvania. Again, these blue sunglasses are Joe Biden's aviators. He's ahead in the polls in all those.
Let me just turn to the new south because you mentioned this, and you mentioned this reverse migration. One of things that has jumped out at me in doing research for this is the huge surge in the African-American population, both North Carolina and Georgia and frankly throughout the south, where you've seen sort of the depopulation of some of the industrial north, people moving back.
Atlanta has a huge influx.
And, obviously, Virginia's part of that because of the D.C. suburbs. Again, this is the solid south. This was the Nixon's southern strategy. Right, this was how Republicans won presidential elections. And it's lasted again. I went back to the 2000 election. Al Gore, son of Tennessee, lost Tennessee. Lost the entire south, across the south.
This is something that has been solidly Republican for a generation. And suddenly, Virginia's pretty solidly blue now.
North Carolina, again, Biden ahead. Georgia, you know, we almost had an African-American woman governor of Georgia, so the population changed. The demographics really is going to have a huge impact, even over the last four years in North Carolina and Georgia.
Yeah, it's so interesting. Well, for starters, let me just say this area of the country is so important for Biden. If you remember things turned around for him almost overnight once the new south started getting on board with Biden. And then it was just like boom, you know, he's our guy.
I mean, we forget about how late it was in the cycle that we were like, OK, we're with Biden. You know, and it was when the new south came for him.
Yes, Jim Clyburn, congressman from South Carolina, did a key endorsement ahead of the South Carolina's primary. And then the black vote across the country turned out for him on super Tuesday.
And I think, you know, again, we talk about this enthusiasm gap for Hillary Clinton because as you say, some these Clintonian economic policies. There is this enthusiasm for Biden. Maybe it's the association with Barack Obama. He's worked really hard on this from his days as a Delaware senator.
Yeah, well, I wonder. I mean, yes, absolutely Barack Obama's endorsement helps him. But I think to go back to this point you're making about the migration of wealth, so, you know, in the 30s, you had African-Americans going from the south to northern states. We've talked a little bit about Michigan, Ohio.
They also went to places like New York. I mean, you know, the Harlem Renaissance. I mean, this entire cultural movement. It's interesting, so we both live in New York. I've seen a lot of African-American money moving from a city like, you know, New York to say Atlanta to Charlotte. You know, people are selling.
Yeah, it's fascinating. They're selling. I'll draw a little brownstone. They're selling the brownstones, the townhouses that their parents or their grandparents bought when they moved to Harlem.
Right, and then Atlanta gave them the suburban house...
Moving down here.
...with a yard.
Yeah, yeah, bling.
...and the dog.
So money going to this. So you've got now two blocks that I think are going to be very pro-Biden. You've got a middle-upper-middle class, African-American professional community in some of those big cities. And P.S., those cities are some of the fastest growing cities, right, places like Charlotte, places like Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham area.
I mean, this is where a lot of the new kind of manufacturing, service sector job hubbing is happening. So these are really vibrant areas. You've also got that traditional, you know, middle class, maybe working middle class African-American vote.
These are the people that are really feeling pain from Covid. They're essential workers. They are service workers. Many of them have lost their jobs.
Let me talk about one other issue when it comes to African voters in the south. And that is you talk about history repeating itself, voter suppression, right. We have seen frankly both sides play a little gamesmanship on this.
I remember again, I was in Florida during the recount, and you saw all sorts of people going to court trying to game this system. But we've really seen something rather systemic, you know, in Georgia, in North Carolina, and some of these other states where, you know, it is an active effort by some of these, you know, sort of populist organisations to back Trump to threaten to show up with armed guards.
And, you know, pretending to be vote workers and stuff like that. Obviously, Trump is sort of railing against mail-in voters, mail-in ballots. And the African-American community has been one of the hardest hit by Covid, so potentially if they think that mail-in votes are not worthwhile, they could be suppressed in that way as well.
I guess, it's probably unknowable. But what is your sense in terms of what effect that could have on turnout, particularly through the south where we've seen a history of that? I mean, frankly not even going back to the 60s, going back to the 1860s, right? 1876, when they had the reconstruction where Jim Crow, I mean, that is the original voter suppression. And it's rearing its ugly head yet again.
You know, it's so interesting. You're connecting a lot of things. You started with George Floyd. We're talking about voter suppression. We're talking about a great migration, which was frankly about leaving the oppression of the south, going to the opportunity of the north.
We are still back. And I thought about this when the George Floyd situation happened and Black Lives Matter kind of came to the fore of a national conversation. We are experiencing right now the reverberations of America's original sin of slavery, and they are playing out now.
And you're absolutely right. I think that I'm already, you know, in just talking to progressives hearing a lot of war gaming about what are we going to do? First of all, huge dollars, huge manpower being spent on just getting out this vote, so that's number one.
But there's also, you know, all kinds of scenario planning for what could happen.
And I will do... I'll try my scales of justice because what is going on now is a lot of legal fighting.
I drew it upside down the last time.
So there's a lot of legal fighting on this one right now. And we're starting to see, as you said, is the Democrats being organised on this.
They are challenging...
That's always been their weak point by the way. Republicans have always been so much better organised. And finally we're seeing Democrats be like, OK, we've got to get a clue about that.
So there is a risk, I think, on the day. Again, this happened in New Jersey frankly in gubernatorial races where you'd get the Republicans to sort of hire retired policemen to show up and have official-looking badges, and start questioning African-Americans: Oh, you're not allowed to vote here.
We hear some of these, the Truth of the Vote, some of these organisations threatening to show up with sort of quasi-militia guys on the day. But what is happening right now is in the courts.
What we're seeing is real severe fights in the courts to pave the way for what happens on November. And the Democrats are actually showing up, and Biden is organising. And the Democrats are organising there, and they're winning quite a few court cases there.
I guess it's unknowable. But I guess if you were to put on your prediction you know, what do you think the impact of some of these voter suppression efforts on the African-American vote in the south and frankly through the blue wall, right? This was supposed to be where Biden or Hillary can never lose Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania.
These are traditional Democratic states. I'll make a wall here out of blue things. You know, Hillary lost all three of them by, you know, 45,000 votes in Pennsylvania, 11,000 votes in Michigan.
Do you think that voter suppression could have an impact?
Well, first of all, I think...
Let me put one more thing here like that.
Really get your wall there. Let me take that in two parts. For starters, I think it's a different dynamic. I think Hillary and Joe Biden are two entirely different candidates. I really do think that we are going to see these swing states going Biden.
All right, I'm going to say that too. I agree.
Not only because of the reasons that we spoke about with African-American community with Black Lives Matter, but also for other reasons with, you know, the Rust Belt working class, white population that we'll get into later. I think voter suppression is going to be an issue.
But I think that the progressives are so galvanised right now. And the fact that BLM is to the forefront of the national conversation. I mean, I was watching - thank God sports are back by the way - I was watching the NBA games the other night.
And I was noticing Black Lives Matter on the back of every player's jersey. I mean, this is front and centre. It's in everyone's consciousness all the time. And I got to say, back to scales of justice, if we get a situation in which there is enough voter suppression that these places are in play in a way that they wouldn't have been, that's going to be a constitutional crisis for America.
Yeah, thank you for bringing up my horrible sports teams. They're all doing very badly. OK, so I think both of us are calling Michigan and Pennsylvania for Biden. I think, you know, the polling basically bears that out, tighter in Georgia and North Carolina. What would you say in terms of if you were to predict Georgia, North Carolina?
Boy, you're really putting me on the spot.
That's what we're supposed to be doing here.
That's what we're going to be doing. Is there going to be like a replay about how we did?
No, this dies. The minute it goes on the internet, it disappears. Yes, right.
I'm going to go Biden in North Carolina. This may be pessimistic. I think it's possible that Georgia could go to him.
I'm going to go the opposite actually.
I'm just really impressed, again, Stacey Abrams in Georgia. I mean, the real energy of the African-America organisation in Georgia. Again, I'm slightly obsessed about organisation, but I think that is beginning to build itself.
You talked about public sector unions in some of these states. These are right-to-work states, where you didn't really have that in the past. You're starting to see some organisation. And I think the flip side, I think North Carolina, I think that there's less organisation there and more the culture issues tend have to play there, so I'm going to flip.
OK, all right, well it's good to have some disagreement.