Democrats’ Billion-Dollar Mistake

In Voting On

The Democratic Party is at risk of repeating the billion-dollar blunder that helped create its devastating losses of 2016. With its obsessive focus on wooing voters who supported Donald Trump, it is neglecting the cornerstone of its coalition and failing to take the steps necessary to win back the House of Representatives and state houses in 2018.

In the 2016 election, the Democratic Party committees that support Senate and House candidates and allied progressive organizations spent more than $1.8 billion. The effectiveness of that staggering amount of money, however, was undermined by a strategic error: prioritizing the pursuit of wavering whites over investing in and inspiring African-American voters, who made up 24 percent of Barack Obama’s winning coalition in 2012.

In spring 2016, when the progressive independent expenditure groups first outlined their plans for $200 million in spending, they did not allocate any money at all for mobilizing black voters (some money was slotted for radio and digital advertising aimed at blacks, but none for hiring human beings to get out the vote).

Predictably, African-American turnout plummeted. According to new census data, 59.6 percent of eligible black voters cast ballots last year, down from the 66 percent who voted in 2012. The problem cannot simply be attributed to the absence of Mr. Obama on the ticket: A slightly higher percentage of black voters, 60 percent, turned out for John Kerry in 2004, than cast ballots last year. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the tens of thousands of African-Americans who voted in 2012 but didn’t vote in 2016 far exceeded the minuscule losing margins for Hillary Clinton.

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