‘She Is A Sister’: How Black Voters Propelled Hillary Clinton To Super Tuesday Victory

CREDIT: Emily Atkin

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) leads a group of women at the launch of Women of Color for Hillary Clinton in Houston, Texas, on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2016.

In a small classroom at Texas Southern University on Sunday, Hillary Clinton’s campaign gathered about 100 mostly-African American women to talk about how to generate excitement for the first female president. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), the guest of honor, mused on what she believed to be Clinton’s best qualities.

“She’s a thinker, and she has a plan,” Lee said. “Some call her a policy wonk, but I will tell you — she is a sister.”

The pre-Super Tuesday gathering was the fourth statewide launch event for Women of Color for Hillary, the Hillary Clinton campaign’s effort to mobilize African American women in the presidential primary election. The effort is just one of many of Clinton’s outreach strategies for black voters, which have also included a major speech on racism; a honed-in focus on environmental injustices in Flint, Michigan; and high-profile endorsements from the Congressional Black Caucus’ political action committee and the mothers of multiple victims of police violence.

Post-Super Tuesday, her efforts seem to have worked. Clinton won seven out of the 11 states that cast votes, and black Americans were a big part of those wins — according to exit polls, Clinton won more than 80 percent of black votes in Tennessee and Georgia, and 90 percent in Arkansas in Alabama. Her worst performance, according to FiveThirtyEight, was in Oklahoma; she only got 71 percent of their vote.

Clinton’s support among black voters is undoubtedly crucial. This year, they are expected to make up more than 20 percent of the Democratic primary electorate. And in some cases, she is winning them over by even bigger margins than even Barack Obama did in 2008.

Still, things are not all rosy. For one, turnout is low, which most pundits take as signalling a lack of excitement. In South Carolina, for example, black turnout declined about 40 percent since 2008.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, Clinton’s huge margin of popularity with black voters overall does not extend to young black voters. To be sure, she is still winning in that area — but not by a lot. And her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is picking up the slack.

“Bernie Sanders isn’t winning black millennials, but he is winning a significant portion of black millennials,” Leah Wright Rigueur, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, told the International Business Times. “Whatever percent, that’s still important because it suggests that Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a lock on black millennials. There’s a section of black millennials who are really disenchanted with traditional politics.”

In fact, young voters overall seem to be Clinton’s major weak spot. She lost the youth vote in every single Super Tuesday state. This is a problem for her, as young voters make up about one third of the electorate.

Her campaign seemed to realize this at Sunday’s Women of Color event in Houston, where most of the women were admittedly middle-aged. Lee, the keynote speaker, devoted a significant portion of her speech trying to counter the narrative that young voters would not turn out for Clinton. In fact, she urged the women in the room not to feel frustrated, but to empathize with millennials of color who may be leaning toward Sanders.

“We must be sympathetic and empathetic and understanding of those whose life stories may be 18 years on this earth, or 20 years on this earth, or 25 years on this earth,” she said. She urged the women in the room to share stories of their own youths, when women and African Americans were more outwardly discriminated against in the workplace, in the criminal justice system, and in everyday life. That, she argued, would be the key to motivating young voters to come out for Clinton.

“It is good to talk about revolution,” Lee said. “But the revolution that is going to be the most historic is a woman in the White House.”