Newspaper article International New York Times

Why Sanders Lags on Black Vote ; His Message Misses out with African-Americans Who See Incomes Rising

Newspaper article International New York Times

Why Sanders Lags on Black Vote ; His Message Misses out with African-Americans Who See Incomes Rising

Article excerpt

One reason for Bernie Sanders's gap among African-Americans is that they have more favorable impressions of the economy.

Asked during a January debate why he trailed Hillary Clinton so badly among minority voters, Senator Bernie Sanders said he would gain ground once those voters became familiar with his track record and agenda on the economy and criminal justice.

Two months later, as voters went to the polls in Arizona and Utah on Tuesday, and Idaho holding caucuses, Mr. Sanders remains on the wrong side of a yawning gap among African-Americans even as his performance among whites has been impressive.

One important reason for this may be that African-Americans have experienced somewhat more favorable economic trends in recent years. While still worse off than whites, African-Americans have seen their jobless rate fall a little further than whites have, relative to a prerecession average. Furthermore, the decline has been faster for African-Americans in the last year.

The economist Robert J. Shapiro recently measured the income growth that people experience as they age. He found that, on average in 2013 and 2014 (the most recent data available), incomes for blacks in their 30s, 40s and 50s grew more rapidly than for whites in the same age group. Older people, who strongly support Mrs. Clinton, have also seen income gains relative to other groups since the recession.

Still, the economic data is sufficiently tentative and murky that it is unlikely to tell the full story. That is all the more true given the stark difference between Mr. Sanders's performance among working-class whites and African-Americans. Typically in Democratic primaries, insurgent liberal candidates fail to make significant inroads in either of these groups. But Mr. Sanders carried white working-class voters by large margins in states like Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Hampshire. He nearly tied Mrs. Clinton among white working-class voters in states where he otherwise lost badly, such as Florida and Ohio.

Moreover, Mr. Sanders has done so while facing some of the same disadvantages that weigh him down with African-Americans: low name recognition and the group's longstanding affection for the Clinton family. Recent polling shows that Bill Clinton's favorability rating among working-class white Democrats is roughly equivalent to his rating among African-Americans.

Perhaps a better explanation for Mr. Sanders's divergent performance is that while African-Americans and white working-class Democrats are experiencing broadly similar economic trends, they interpret them differently.

A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week found that African-Americans rated the economy as good by a ratio of about four to one, versus about two to one for white Democrats and an even narrower margin for white Democrats without a college degree. A Times/CBS News poll in December found that, relative to two years earlier, roughly three times as many African-Americans said their family's financial situation was better as said it was worse, while Democrats without a college degree were almost evenly split on this question.

Geoff Garin, a strategist for Mrs. Clinton's 2008 campaign who currently polls for Priorities USA Action, a pro-Clinton "super PAC," posited that for a more economically marginal group like African-Americans, the unemployment rate -- which has declined significantly for all racial groups in recent years -- carries more importance than growth in incomes and certain assets, which have been slower to recover. For whites, even working-class whites, whose jobless rate is substantially lower than that for African- Americans, the latter took on comparatively more importance.

"The major source of economic anxiety for working-class white men is not whether they have a job tomorrow," Mr. Garin said, "it's that they still haven't had their personal recovery. Their recovery is about assets and income. …

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