New Opinion Survey Signals Trouble for Democrats with Black Voters in the Heartland
WASHINGTON — Today, Working America released a report on their most recent “Front Porch Focus Groups” with working-class Black voters in Columbus, Ohio. Going door-to-door, Working America engaged Black voters in conversations to determine what’s on their minds, which issues matter most to them and their perceptions of the political process.
Working America canvassers Interviewed 582 working-class African American voters, who were located mostly in Franklin County, Ohio. In the middle of the heartland, these voters’ opinions could be a bellwether for working-class Black voters throughout the Midwest and beyond. The interviews revealed valuable information about voter choices and engagement in the 2016 elections.
“While voter suppression was an issue in 2016, there was the even starker problem of registered Black voters who stayed away from the polls,” said Matt Morrison, co-executive director of Working America and the author of the report, “Does My Vote Matter?”
“From our focus groups, we know that voters didn’t like their choices in 2016,” said Morrison. “But the most important takeaway from our conversations is that Black voters don’t see much of a difference between the Democrats and Republicans. Nearly half of all Black voters said that when it comes to their economic wellbeing, it doesn’t make a difference whether there is a Democrat or Republican in office.”
While a bedrock of the Democratic Party’s base, Black voter turnout fell nearly 10 points to just 62 percent in 2016 — lower than Ohio’s 64 percent overall voter turnout rate for that year. That drop accounted for as much as a fifth of Hillary Clinton’s margin of defeat. If Black voter turnout remains depressed in 2018, Democrats’ will face an uphill battle in Ohio’s upcoming elections for the U.S. Senate, governor and state legislature — not to mention races across the country.
Working America uses “front porch” focus groups, individual conversations with voters at their front doors, canvassers to get qualitative data about voters’ opinions. These “front porch” focus groups add valuable information to data gathered through more traditional opinion research.
“When we combine what we learn on front porches in key districts across the country with data from polls and traditional focus groups, we are able to pinpoint trends early on and determine the policies and messages that not only sway voters but also engage and move them into action,” said Morrison.
Morrison has proof that his methodology works. In January 2016, Working America was the first organization to flag that white working-class voters were favoring then-candidate Trump. At a time when he was widely viewed as having no chance to win, Working America warned that Trump was appealing to white voters, based upon 1,700 conversations in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
The most recent report suggests that Democrats should not take their African American base for granted. Instead, Morrison says the party must connect with voters now, warning that early, direct outreach is the only way to turn out voters.
“All is not lost,” said Morrison. “When we asked voters to sign a pledge to vote in upcoming elections, a staggering 66 percent said ‘yes.’ That’s a promising sign for our ability to reach voters. But we can only reach them if voters are contacted well in advance of the election.”
CONTACT: Krissi Jimroglou