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Democratic Primaries: The African-American Vote

Bernie Sanders is putting a dent in the perception that Hillary Clinton has a lock on the vote of the people of color.

As Bernie Sanders builds up support among African-American voters, he is putting a dent in the perception that Hillary Clinton has a lock on the vote of the people of color. Clinton still has the lead in states with a high percentage of African Americans, but Sanders is chipping away into that lead, making the final outcome of thevote in these states anything but certain.

African-American Voters

African Americans constitute over 14 percent of US population, with the majority located in Southern states.The biggest concentrations are in Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia, each of which has well over 30 percent ofAfrican Americans. Other Southern states with substantial African American minorities include South Carolina (29 percent), Alaska (27 percent), North Carolina (23 percent) and Virginia (21 percent).

Since African Americans tend to vote Democrat, they constitute a disproportionately higher percentage ofDemocratic voters in Southern states. In South Carolina, the first Southern state to hold a Democratic primary in 2016, 56 percent of Democratic electorate is African American. In the current nominating cycle, African Americans are playing a bigger role than usual, because most of the Southern states will wind up their primariesby the middle of March.

South Carolina as Clinton’s Firewall

Struck by the strength of Sanders’ vote-bank in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign had taken comfort in the fact that South Carolina, with its predominantly African American Democratic voter demographic, could serve as a firewall, propelling her to victory in Southern contests. Clinton’s campaign has been trying to reassure its concerned supporters that by maintaining her lead and locking superdelegates in Southern states, Clinton will become the inevitable nominee.

However, there are signs that the Clinton team may be falling behind the Sanders campaign, both in terms of organizing on the ground and enthusing African American voters. Because Sanders already enjoys significant support among white Democrats in South Carolina, all he needs is a slice of the African American vote to erase Clinton’s lead, and the likelihood of such an occurrence increases with each passing day.

Younger African Americans

The Sanders campaign is generating excitement among younger African-American voters, which is going a long way in giving it a much-needed boost. Many college-aged voters are turning lukewarm on Clinton and getting drawn to Sanders’ views on reducing income inequality, cracking down on Wall Street and cutting thecost of college.

African-American Luminaries

In an ominous sign for Clinton, several African-American luminaries have thrown their weight behind theSanders campaign. One of them, civil rights icon, actor and singer Harry Belafonte, has given a video message in support of Sanders. In addition, actor, director and political activist Danny Glover has announced his support for Sanders.

Killer Mike, an African-American hip hop artist, actor and activist, has become a prominent advocate for theSanders campaign. Mike recorded a six-part interview with Sanders, in which the candidate articulated his position on issues of interest to the African-American community. Other African-American hip-hop artists supporting Sanders include Lil B, Big Boi and Bun B. In addition, talk show hosts Tim Black and Benjamin Dixon, have posted videos supporting the Sanders candidacy.

Prominent African-American scholar Dr. Cornel West has become a major surrogate of the Sanders campaign.To help Sanders win the African-American vote, West has been traveling with the candidate to rallies at African-American colleges. Award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates – who is an influential voice on cultural and political issues, particularly relating to race relations – has pledged to vote for Sanders. Moreover, Benjamin Jealous, a civic leader and former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has announced his support for Sanders.

Congressional Black Caucus

Clinton, on the other hand, has not been able to garner much backing beyond her traditional support base, which mainly comprises Congressional Black Caucus members, including prominent civil rights leader John Lewis, as well as church and party leaders who supported her in 2008. Clinton is leaning heavily on support of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, which represents the Democratic Party’s African-American establishment. In its endorsement of Clinton, the PAC pledged to help her campaign during South Carolina’s Democraticprimary. But the PAC’s decision to back Clinton was quickly challenged by Rep. Keith Ellison, the onlyAfrican-American member of Congress supporting Sanders, who claimed that the PAC did not take input fromthe larger Congressional Black Caucus.


As voters discover Sanders’ role in fighting for causes that directly affect African Americans, his support in this voting bloc grows. With a bevy of African-American celebrities lining up behind him, and with young AfricanAmerican voters responding to his clarion call for a political revolution, Sanders may be about to turn the tide against the Clinton political machine in Southern States, beginning with South Carolina.

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