How Black Voters Are Transforming Suburban Politics
Demography is not always fate.
Even when gerrymandering is seen as « fair », there are many challenges in wooing these new populations.
Take Texas. It has the largest number of black residents in the country, and the growth of the suburban black population there has been particularly pronounced. In the Houston area, Harris County saw an increase of approximately 185,000 black people in the suburbs from 2000 to 2020. This led to a noticeable shift in the distribution of black residents countywide: three-quarters of the county’s black population lived in the urban portion of Harris County – Houston. In 2020, city dwellers made up less than 60% of the county’s black residents, while more than a third of Harris County’s blacks were commuters, down from just 21% previously. “Black voters basically carried the Democratic Party to Texas in 2020,” said Abhi Rahman, a Democratic strategist in Texas who describes himself as South Asian-American. « That’s how we lost five and a half points from Donald Trump. »
But if Democratic gains like those in Texas hinted at the possibilities for the party to diversify into the suburbs, the same state in 2022 then laid bare its limits. As early voting began last month, Democrats in Texas began sounding the alarm about low turnout among black voters, including in Harris County. Amid headlines like “Black and young voters missing from Harris County polls” and “Trustty blocks Democrats rely on didn’t turn out in early voting in Texas,” Democrats have been scrambling to make vote black voters, with first lady Jill Biden being predominantly black. churches in Houston as party leaders organized phone calls to voters from pastors and a robocall from former President Barack Obama.
He barely made a dent. By the time ballots were cast on Election Day, black turnout was even lower than it looked in early voting, down 14 percentage points in November in Texas from in the previous midterm, in 2018, at 35%, according to estimates by the state Democratic Party. It was even lower in Harris County — about 19%, county party officials said. In a post-election memo, the executive director of the state’s Democratic Party, Jamarr Brown, who is black, said: « Turnout was particularly low with black voters – voters who, as a bloc , tend to vote more Democratic and, unsurprisingly, voters who have been more specifically targeted by Republicans in Texas’ post-2020 voter suppression campaign.
Texas Democrats have attributed the decline in black turnout to voting restrictions in the state, such as a ban on 24-hour polls and drive-thru voting, which have been proposed during the Covid pandemic. -19 in Harris County in 2020. They blamed the lack of a black candidate at the top of the ticket as well. Enthusiasm for voting among black voters, Evbagharu said, is depressed when « we don’t see each other » on the ballot.
Democratic candidates are also still trying to figure out how to get black voters out of inner cities. Traditional participatory efforts, such as “souls to the ballot box,” can be effective in a compact, densely populated urban area. But as the black population becomes more dispersed, Brown said, « I think people will probably start thinking for the next cycle to really think about what it means if I go to church in Dallas, but I live in Collin County. and vote in different races there.
If the movement of blacks to the suburbs continues, it’s possible that over time, however powerful Republicans are today, GOP gerrymandering simply won’t be able to keep up.
One night this month in Harris County, local Democratic Party leaders convened a call with activists to take stock of their midterm performance, with Evbagharu, the party chairman, beaming from the seat of the left. Field metrics from the 2022 campaign — doors knocked, calls made, text messages sent — were still tabulated on the wall.
It had been a relatively good night for county Democrats, re-electing County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a rising Democratic Party star, and expanding their majority in the county commissioner’s court. Black participation had lagged throughout the county. But in several heavily black suburban neighborhoods targeted by Democrats, the fall in 2018 was not so severe.
Part of the reason, Evbagharu said, was “super, super simple,” with Democrats knocking on doors, texting and calling black voters in areas where the party has historically not had robust grassroots operations. .