Posted on April 9, 2020

Black Voters Are Also ‘Suburban’ Voters

Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post, April 8, 2020

There are words and phrases used as shorthand in politics and journalism that are meant to paint an enormous picture in the mind of readers and voters. “Urban voters” is synonymous with African Americans. “Working-class voters,” “blue-collar voters,” “upper-middle-class voters” and “suburban voters” all conjure up the image of white Americans. And they are all wrong in 2020 America.

Actually, they have been wrong for decades, and blacks like me have long chafed at the designations for almost as long. Yes, we are an “urban” people thanks to the Great Migration that saw 6 million African Americans flee domestic terrorism in the South for cities in the North, the Midwest and the West. But we have always been, generally speaking, a “working-class” and “blue-collar” people considering our enslaved ancestors worked for free for nearly 250 years and then their progeny were forced into jobs that didn’t match their potential for another century.

Over time, after the end of segregation in the 1960s, those African Americans who could bolted the cities for better living conditions or better schools or both in the suburbs. They weren’t alone. Latino Americans and Asian Americans have done the same over the decades. And in later years, the high prices of gentrification would drive many more of them from cities to suburbs and elsewhere. {snip}

Both parties know that the path to the White House is paved through the suburbs. What they don’t recognize fully, especially some Democrats, is that those suburbs are no longer synonymous with white upper-middle-class voters. {snip}

What got me thinking about this in earnest was a direct message from my friend Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University in New York, reacting to my interview with Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who is on a lot of lists as a potential vice-presidential candidate with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

{snip} Greer wrote: “Dems need to stop chasing this mysterious white working-class suburban voter. Black folks and POC are in the suburbs now [because] we got kicked out of cities.”

{snip} A December 2019 memo reporting on a series of focus groups with African Americans conducted by the center-left think tank Third Way and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies pointed out that “just 45 percent in the survey live in cities. A majority live in suburbs, small towns, or rural areas.”

Then I came across another Third Way report heralding a “new suburban majority” that puts even more data behind Greer’s and my assertion. Third Way’s Ryan Pougiales points out: “Forty-eight percent of all voters nationwide came from suburban counties in the last presidential election. By comparison, 28% of voters came from urban counties and 24% from small-town and rural counties.” {snip} Pougiales also highlighted that “According to an analysis from the progressive data firm Catalist, more than half of voters of color live in suburban areas.”