How Does Bernie Sanders Get Black Voters To Feel The Bern?
September 11, 2015

This Alternet story by Terrell Jermaine Starr on black voters and Bernie Sanders has a backstory. Last week, he took to Twitter to say his bosses at Alternet refused to let him write it -- he said they didn't want any story that wasn't overtly pro-Sanders. (You can see an image of some of his tweets at the bottom of this piece.) Thanks to the strong reaction of black people on Twitter, his Alternet editors reversed position and he went ahead with the story. Now that I read it, I can't understand why they ever had a problem.

It's well-reported and even-handed, and certainly not hostile to Sanders. It's lengthy, so go read it all:

In June, only 1 percent of black people had a favorable view of Sanders, according to Public Policy Polling. That number increased to 6 percent in July, and now, it’s at 14 percent. The uptick in favorability is a positive sign because it is still very early in the campaign season. The political strategists interviewed for this story believe Hillary Clinton doesn’t necessarily have the black vote locked down.

Roland Martin, managing editor and host of TV One’s African-American news show, NewsOne Now, says Sanders needs to tailor his economic message and be more consistent about it if he expects to earn a decent percentage of black votes.

“It has to be a strong economic message that speaks directly to black people,” Martin said. “I think what happens is that white progressives want to be able to speak in these general terms and not speak specifically to black people.”

Higher Heights' Glynda Carr says Sanders needs to be assertive in making connections with black women.

“Voters still want some competitiveness in the Democratic primaries and having a different voice,” she said. “If he harnesses that voice and actually uses it, I think he could make some inroads, just because there is that opportunity to have some contrast to the lead candidate. He is making the largest gains in the primaries than the rest of the candidates. So that is an opportunity. Don’t forget in 2008 the bulk of African-American women were still with Hillary Clinton and [candidate Obama] migrated them away from her by investing in talking to them about issues that they care about.”

As for those claiming black people don’t want to vote for an old white guy, Carr has this response: “We were a little more sophisticated in voting for Obama for reasons other than him being a black man.”

But MSNBC's Joy Ann Reid wonders if it is even possible for Sanders to adjust his message to the grand scale required for him to win over a significant number of black votes.

“That is asking Bernie Sanders to be very inauthentic,” she said. “At its core, the Sanders message is that all problems and ails in the country essentially and fundamentally boil down to economic inequality, not racial inequality, and that racial inequality in other areas are a subset of economic inequality. That is his message.”

“I don’t know how he gets away from it, but he has to revise his message in a way that African Americans voters, in a much larger way, become interested in what he is doing,” Reid said. “Otherwise, he is just energizing the liberal white wing of the party. But that is not going to happen in South Carolina or Florida. And that is not going to help him when he gets outside of New Hampshire and Iowa. That is his fundamental problem.”


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