Posted on December 27, 2023

Why Biden Could Lose Georgia Next Year

Mara Gay, New York Times, December 19, 2023

Far from the hustle of modern Atlanta and its rapidly growing suburbs is an older Georgia, a rural land of cotton fields and vacant storefronts, of low-wage jobs and shuttered swimming pools, of underfunded Black colleges and American promises ever deferred.

In 2020, strong turnout among Black voters in these isolated regions of the state was key to the coalition that turned Georgia blue and ousted Donald Trump from office. Though Atlanta and its suburbs have drawn much of the national attention, Black Democrats in rural Georgia were just as critical: Voting in large numbers in 2020, they reduced the margin of victory in Republican strongholds.

Three years later, ahead of a presidential election that could determine whether the United States slides toward autocracy, there are signs this coalition is on the brink of collapse. Many Black voters say President Biden and the Democratic Party have so far failed to deliver the changes they need to improve their lives, from higher-paid jobs to student debt relief and voting protections. They want Mr. Trump out of the White House for good. But indifference and even disdain are growing toward a Democratic Party that relies assiduously on Black Americans’ support yet rarely seems in a hurry to deliver results for them in return.

“What does he know about my life?” Kyla Johnson, 19, said of Mr. Biden outside the Dollar General grocery store in Fort Valley, a tiny town in central Georgia home to Fort Valley State University. Ms. Johnson said she had no plans to vote next year.

To better understand this discontent, I set out to talk to Black voters across rural Georgia. What I found were many people who are largely living in poverty and say they feel forgotten by Mr. Biden and national Democrats, though almost all voted for Mr. Biden in 2020. They say they won’t vote for Republicans, whom they see as embodying the spirit of the Old South. But so far, many voters told me, they have seen and heard nothing to suggest that the Democratic Party understands their problems, is committed to improving their lives or even cares about them at all.

In dozens of interviews across rural Georgia, younger Black Americans in the region said they are struggling to put food on the table amid soaring prices. They are grappling with suddenly surging housing costs in areas that had long been affordable. Many are carrying tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, debts they have no idea how they can repay by working the jobs available in the region, which are extremely limited and low paying. The bounty from a booming Wall Street is nowhere to be found.

In Peach County, home to Fort Valley, nearly one in three Black Americans is living below the federal poverty line, according to U.S. census data, compared with 16 percent of white residents in the county and 12.5 percent of Americans nationally. In Lowndes County, which includes Valdosta, about one in three Black Americans is living below the poverty line, compared with just 12.5 percent of white residents.

Ms. Johnson’s friend Zayln Young, 18, said she would consider voting but had so far heard nothing from Mr. Biden about the issues she cared about the most. “For instance, I can’t get food stamps because I’m on my meal plan. Why?” Ms. Young asked, adding that her school meal plan at Fort Valley State University is hard for her to afford and doesn’t provide enough food. (Under federal rules, students who receive the majority of their meals from a school meal plan are ineligible for food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.)

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In national polls, Black voters appear to be moving away from Mr. Biden and the Democratic Party while expressing growing support for Mr. Trump. In one October poll, just 71 percent of Black voters in battleground states said they would vote for Mr. Biden, compared with the 87 percent who voted for him nationwide in 2020. Nearly a third of Black men said they supported Mr. Trump, while 17 percent of Black women did. In another poll, one in five Black voters said they wanted someone other than Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden.

What’s going on? Trumpism has proved to be a powerful force in American politics, so it should come as little surprise that some Black Americans — especially Black men — might also be drawn to its authoritarianism, faux populism and toxic masculinity, as so many white Americans have been, particularly as the economy has grown increasingly unequal.

Given Mr. Trump’s open embrace of white supremacy, however, that appeal is severely limited. What’s more likely is not a widespread shift of Black voters toward Mr. Trump but a vote of no confidence in Mr. Biden and the Democratic Party. Black Americans know they make up the backbone of the party. They believe — correctly — that it has long taken them for granted. And now they seem to be reaching a breaking point.

“Overall, I hear this sense of apathy,” said Melinee Calhoun, the state organizing manager for Black Voters Matter, a nonpartisan voting rights group with a large presence in rural Georgia. “It’s: We did what we were asked to do, and nothing has changed.” In many communities, organizers like Dr. Calhoun are the only ones building relationships with Black voters.

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