The Washington Post reports that a Bernie Sanders rally held in the gym of a black church in North Charleston, South Carolina drew more than 1,600 people. Fewer than 40 were black.
Sanders has a problem with black voters, especially in the South. As one South Carolina Democratic leader, a Sanders supporter, said:
It’s not just that he’s a Yankee. It’s not just that he’s old and that he sounds like a professor. It’s all of those things.
It’s more. Sanders is uncomfortable with identity politics. He preaches socialism. I’ve seen no evidence that socialism holds any special attraction for blacks, as compared to white Democrats. A great many, I assume, are impressed with capitalism and just want to make out better under it.
Elizabeth Warren also has a problem with African-Americans. The same Post article describes an event in Greenville, South Carolina held at a “politically active” church. More than 800 people attended, but “only about a dozen black faces were visible.”
Unlike Sanders, Warren is fine with identity politics. Indeed, she’s a practitioner of it. But her attempt to prove her status as part-Indian made her a laughingstock. I doubt many blacks were impressed.
Moreover, Warren, like Sanders, is old and sounds like a professor. In fact, she was one not all that long ago.
It’s difficult to see either Sanders or Warren competing successfully for black votes against a riveting African-American stump-speaker like Cory Booker, or even the less than riveting Kamala Harris. And if Joe Biden enters the race, he should do best among black voters willing to back a white contender, given his connection with former President Obama.
For me, the interesting question is how Sanders or Warren would fare with black voters in the general election, should they make it that far. Would either approach Obama’s performance with this group or would they more or less replicate Hillary Clinton’s less impressive showing?
My sense, for what it’s worth, is that if the economy holds up, President Trump will capture a significantly larger percentage of the black vote than he did in 2016. On the other hand, black turnout might well be significantly higher than that year, even if Democrats nominate Sanders or Warren.
But it might be higher still if they don’t nominate either of these two.