Bernie Sanders suspending his campaign may have cleared the way for Joe Biden to be the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, but Wednesday’s announcement also renewed the urgency behind an existing set of key questions that have yet to be definitively answered. Perhaps chief among those questions is whether Biden, who has all but secured the support of older Black voters, can do the same with their younger counterparts.
Everybody keeps talking about the so-called “Black vote” without remembering that the coveted collective is made up of individual Black voters who have vastly different political priorities when it comes to presidential candidates. While those preferences are broken up along gender lines, it’s also totally an age thing, too.
Biden’s popularity with older Black voters is no secret at all. Statistics show that Black voters older than 45 are disproportionately Democrats and typically identify with establishment politicians, providing the Party with a built-in voting bloc it can almost blindly rely on for support. But Biden’s association with Barack Obama, the first Black president who is all bust assured to officially endorse his vice president’s bid for the White House, is what really seals the deal for older Black voters, Howard University political science professor Niambi Carter told the Associated Press last month.
“Older black voters are an important constituency for Democrats,” Carter said. “I think people underestimate the importance of having a steadfast core group of supporters, and Joe Biden had that. I think this sort of narrative that it’s just about black people voting their fears is perhaps not necessarily the case. Black people are not just pragmatic, they’re strategic.”
But, if there’s one thing that both of Obama’s historic elections showed, it was the need for Democrats to rally a young voting base, many of whom were participating in their first presidential election. Biden will probably need a similar type of turnout from people 30 years old and younger to beat Trump., who, despite his repeated displays of detrimental incompetence, has proven himself to be a formidable — if not a dirty — candidate.
And that’s especially where Sanders’ supporters come into play. Newsweek reported that a poll in February showed Sanders was three times as popular among young Black voters than Biden. The clear difference bolstered the unheeded claim that Black voters are not a monolith.
In theory, it would seem that Democrats should be working as one to defeat the Republican incumbent. The fact that the opponent is Trump should seemingly be the tie that binds all Democrats, a group that has repeatedly expressed disgust with the president.
But Sanders, who was a registered Independent for decades, has seemingly only been a Democrat out of necessity and convenience, not out of allegiance. And who can blame him? Remember how the Democratic National Committee was accused of rigging the nomination process four years ago? Some have argued the same thing happened this time around. Sanders’ supporters, especially his younger ones, haven’t forgotten that.
“I feel like Bernie’s relations with young Black people is the most developed in the race right now,” John Bowers III, the president of Morehouse College’s student government association, told NewsOne at an on-campus rally for Sanders this past November. “His plans on social development are much more thought out than any other candidate.”
But still, it’s not that simple as that type of support may not transfer to Biden’s campaign moving forward.
Whether Team Bernie wants to admit it or not, there is a narrative of resentment associated with Sanders and his campaign, which, four years ago, were accused of being reluctant to rally behind Democrats’ then-nominee Hillary Clinton. Sanders on Wednesday vowed to “move forward to defeat President Trump,” but he also said he intended to “stay on the ballot” in an effort to gather as many delegates as possible. His announcement was conspicuously missing an endorsement of Biden, lending credence to the suspicion that it could be déjà vu all over again.
In the end, though, it may just all come down to the issues.
Responding to Sanders’ announcement on Wednesday, Biden suggested that he might be willing to relax some of his policy ideas to be more in line with the Vermont senator’s. Biden cited “income inequality,” a familiar refrain from Sanders, as being among his top priorities and used Sanders’ viral catchphrase and hashtag of “Not me, us.”
Sanders’ democratic socialist approach to the economy stands in stark contrast to Biden’s preferred traditional capitalism. But since polling has shown that the economy is the number one concern for young Black voters, perhaps that’s one area Biden could focus on in his expected overtures to young Black voters. The current coronavirus crisis may also prompt Biden to consider some or all of Sanders’ Medicare For All platform that would eliminate insurance companies, a policy that is at odds with Biden’s preference to add a public option to the existing limited choices.
“As we move past primary elections, Biden should reference the blueprint that sparked action in working-class voters and be prepared to address the interests of young, Black voters as readily as their older counterparts,” Rashad Robinson, spokesperson for Color Of Change PAC, a nonprofit civil rights group working to elect candidates aligned with Black voters, said in a statement released Wednesday.
If Biden can manage to find common ground with these and other policies championed by Sanders, he may have a fighting chance to compel the so-called Bernie Bros. to defect from Team Bernie. If not, there is the fear among Democrats that Trump’s chances of being re-elected can only improve.