Bernie hasn’t lost the ‘black vote’

Despite his big loss in South Carolina, Sen. Sanders continues to gain in black support nationally

Justin Ward

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(Phil Roeder / CC-BY // Background: Pattern Vectors by Vecteezy)

Joe Biden’s massive win in South Carolina prompted a lot of tea leaf reading about its implications for the Democratic primary, with many in the punditocracy treating it as a strong indicator of which way the “black vote” will break in remaining contests. Case in point: Mother Jones came out with an article on Sunday titled “Bernie Sanders Lost the Black Vote. That’s Probably a Problem Going Forward.”

It leads with this:

In the ballroom of a convention center in Columbia, South Carolina, Bernie Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner stared out at the crowd of supporters that had gathered for what they’d hoped would be another victory party. The group was much smaller than the ones who’d flocked to see her and Sanders throughout South Carolina that week, but it did share one key characteristic with its predecessors: It was mostly white. And that was precisely the problem for the Sanders campaign in a state where two-thirds of the primary electorate is Black.

While the author provides a more nuanced analysis deeper into the piece, the overall framing feeds into a well-established narrative: Bernie’s base is “mostly white” (it’s not) and he’s struggling to make inroads with black voters (he is not).

Bernie surrogate Professor Cornel West (Gage Skidmore / CC-BY-SA)

She points out that Bernie has worked to improve his image and messaging with black Americans through black surrogates and campaign staffers, such as Nina Turner, Cornel West and Briahna Joy Gray. But then she makes it seem like it was all for nought, noting “Sanders had barely beaten his 2016 showing in the Palmetto State, when Hillary Clinton crushed Sanders.”

However, Sanders has overtaken Biden as the first choice of black voters nationwide. The latest Morning Consult poll shows Sanders with a 35–30 lead over Biden among this group. Just two months ago, Biden had a nearly 30 point lead over Sanders, prompting Politico to proclaim “Biden’s rivals can’t break his lock on black voters.” It’s interesting that the…

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Justin Ward

Journalist and activist. Founder and co-chair of DivestSPD. Bylines at SPLC, The Baffler, GEN, USA Today. Follow on Twitter: @justwardoctrine, @DivestSPD