Posted on March 5, 2020

Black Women Went to the Voting Booth with Pragmatism on Super Tuesday

Terrell Jermaine Starr, The Root, March 4, 2020


Sen. Bernie Sanders leading in the vote count so far in California against former Vice President Joe Biden. Latinx voters overwhelmingly backed Sanders, which has been a consistent theme of his victories thus far. One and three voters here in California are Latinx while one in 10 are black, according to CNN exit polling; most black people went for Biden.

But in more than a dozen interviews with black women in downtown Oakland who are casting their ballots at or around drop boxes near the Alameda County Courthouse, most of them told The Root they preferred voting for Warren but ended up picking a male candidate. The women ranged from ages 18- to 62-years-old, all of whom provided very nuanced explanations for their votes for Biden and Sanders. While Sanders has garnered far greater support from younger black voters over Biden, black millennial women aren’t completely removed from the fears of their parents and grandparents.

Elo Ratliff, 31, cast her vote for Biden after leaving the courthouse around 7 p.m. after strongly considering Warren. But the need to remove Trump from office and white America’s doubt over whether a woman could do it informed her decision not to support Warren.


Much has been written about black women’s voting power and how South Carolina resurrected Biden’s campaign. It is as if many political observers didn’t see Biden’s new lead coming. But reporting from black reporters in the field did. The talk in states with large black voting populations was clear: let them white folks have their little say first. We’ll get the last word. And, indeed, black folks are on their way to having the last word with the vast majority of black people voting for Biden on Super Tuesday. There are a lot of primary states left to go, but the moderate white establishment is circling around Biden for a wide range of reasons. Black women, based on interviews The Root has conducted during the 2020 cycle, are paying close attention to all of this.

What is also happening is that many of the black women The Root has spoken to in South Carolina, and now Oakland, is that their desire of seeing a woman as president will have to wait. In Warren’s case, it is not for a lack of trying. There are few presidential candidates in recent memory that have actively sought out black female activists as diverse in gender and ideological outlook than Warren. {snip}


The New York Times interviewed an expert on field operations who explained why she isn’t gaining support with black women on scale:

Don Calloway, a Democratic strategist specializing in field operations with black voters, said Ms. Warren’s problems winning them over threatened the viability of her campaign moving forward but should also serve as a cautionary tale: The progressive activists who have showered her candidacy with validation have a different electoral lens than the black electorate at large.

That schism is a distinction some have labeled “grass tops vs. the grass roots” — or the belief that the leaders of liberal and progressive organizations have a different political lens than their more working-class members.

Ms. Warren “did a great job of galvanizing internet-savvy, well-known personalities, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like that support has translated into populations on the ground,” Mr. Calloway said.