Black women from the Divine Nine stage a “Stroll to the Polls” photo-op on October 6.

By Peter White


NASHVILLE, TN — Some of the nation’s top African American scholars on race and gender politics presented their research in a webinar last week. The subject of the online conference was “Black Voter Turnout in 2020: The Intersections of Politics, Protest and Pandemics.” 

The National Conference of Black Political Scientists (NCOBPS) and the American Political Science Association (APSA) sponsored the event. The meeting was hosted by Dr. Sekou Franklin, associate professor of political science at MTSU and current NCOBPS president.

Tiffany Willoughby-Herard (University of California, Irvine) and Wendy Smooth (The Ohio State University) moderated the call.

The presenters didn’t handicap the race but they were clearly animated by the prospect of a groundswell of Black voters deciding the outcome of the presidential election now two weeks away. What’s at stake for the Democrats is many federal judgeships and hundreds of new rules reversing Trump’s blizzard of executive orders and the repeal of his signature tax bill. 

Dr. Pearl K. Dowe from Emory University summarized her research on African American women, political ambition, and public leadership. 

“What I am finding is that many of the Black women that I have talked to across the country are very deliberate with their commitment to community and how they work through and in their community,” said Dowe.

She showed a recent photo of women from four sororities, decked out in their colors but all sporting a t-shirt that read “Stroll to the Polls”.

“We’re talking about organizations that have more than 800,000 members worldwide and over 3,000 chapters worldwide,” Dowe said. 

Black women express their collective purpose through collective action. Their community connections make them effective mobilizers to get out the vote. Dowe said Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party that is dependent on their labor. 

“Why we’re doing what we’re doing is that it is the community. I may be in harm’s way but I want to ensure that my grandmother, my aunt, uncles, that they can have the right to vote, too,” she said.

Stacy Abrams who founded Fair Fight, Melanie Campbell of the Black Women’s Roundtable, and LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter are well-known leaders who do the organizing work Ford Howe studies. There are many others like Andrea Miller of Common Ground (see Voting Advocates Working to Turn the South Blue, Tennessee Tribune, August 29, 2020.) 

The “Blackest Bus in America” is on a 12-state tour to encourage Black voters to show up at the polls. LaTosha Brown and the Black Voters Matter bus will visit Tennessee October 22-23.

Dr. Lorrie Frasure, University of California, Los Angeles, researches voting patterns by gender and race. She presented her findings on how Black women have voted in recent years compared to other women. She noted that there is a gender gap between the two major parties.

Between 1972-2016 women voted for the Democratic presidential candidate more often than the Republican candidate. Since 1976, the gender gap has varied but in recent election years, women preferred Democrats about 12% more than men and men preferred Republicans about 12% more than women. 

Between 1948-2016 the percent of White women who voted democratic ranged from 35% to 65%. The percentages of Black women who voted democratic ranged from 75% to 100%. 

“White women with the exception of 1964 and 1996 have consistently been supporters of the Republican Party candidate since 1948,” Frasure said.

Dr. Keneshia N. Grant of Howard University talked about how Black migration has affected voting and impacted party strategy for many decades. Why are American presidential candidates so interested in securing “the black vote?”

Grant said it comes down to numbers. “I think Black migration is critically important to American politics ….and it’s important to remember that presidential candidates want to win the electoral college,” Grant said.

Battleground states are not just purple. They often have large numbers of electors. Ten states have 15 or more electoral votes and both parties want to win them. Grant said those same states have large African American populations and presidential candidates campaign especially hard to persuade Black voters to pick them over the other guy.

Grant’s research about where Black people live shows many people are moving back to Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina and their votes have made political races much closer in those states. A lot people talk about the white suburbs versus Black inner cities. Grant said that is much less true than it once was. 

“One of the things that happened in the Great Migration was that as people move it was also the case that their movement changed the nature of churches, changed the nature of access to medical care, changed the nature of their civic organizations. 

I would imagine that the same thing is happening in these mid-western places where as people move, they take that social capital with them,“ Grant said.