Could ethnic minorities save the Senate for the Democrats?

Two different approaches to shaping America’s future

The Republican Party, through Donald Trump and their primary system, has repeatedly fanned fears among white Americans of crime coming from urban gangs of minority ethnic youths and drug cartels run by South Americans. They describe the steady increase of immigrants as an uncontrolled illegal invasion that only a wall can stop.

Democrats since WWII moved toward accepting a more ethnically diverse democratic society. And while they often fall short in pursuing one, they have rhetorically embraced a multicultural society. As a result, regardless of who controls Congress or the presidency in the next two elections, immigration and birth rates over the past half-century will soon result in an America with a population of less than half from European descendants.

The clash of these two views is at the heart of the debate between the Democrat and Republican parties. Candidate Donald Trump’s message was and still is wanting to Make America Great Again. It looks back to when European ethnic groups were shaping America’s future. 

In contrast, President Joe Biden’s theme, like other Democrats, is focused on an all-inclusive future. They saw ethnic minority groups as citizens who should have the same opportunities as most Americans to achieve social, political, and economic power. 

There is a visual and real stark difference between President Trump’s appointments to his White House Cabinet and the courts to Biden’s appointments. Trump was overwhelmingly staffed with whites, while Biden made minority appoints to these positions more than ever before, except for former President Barak Obama.

Democrats are heading into troubled waters

It is largely acknowledged, although not certain, that the House will flip over to Republican control. Control of the Senate is also likely to change. With inflation at a historic high, shooting over 9 percent at the end of June, the party controlling Congress will be blamed. Polls have repeatedly shown inflation to be the number one concern among likely voters. The last time inflation was a major campaign issue was in President Jimmy Carter’s reelection in 1980. Ronald Reagan won every state but one. 

Aside from runaway inflation, a historical trend would slim the Democrat’s chances of maintaining control of Congress this November. The number of voters going to the polls in midterm elections drops from the previous presidential election, regardless of what party controls the presidency. To counter that drift, each party works to have fewer supporters sitting out the election than the other party. 

Republicans have been playing the long game by strategically targeting state legislature races. As a result, they now control both state legislative chambers in 30 states, while Democrats control both in 18 states. Consequently, Republicans have passed more gerrymandering measures than the Democrats. 

While gerrymandering will not impact the statewide votes for Senators, suppression measures can. To reduce the Democratic vote, Republicans have zeroed in on issues like eliminating or restricting the number of voting boxes and voting stations that urban voters use more than rural voters.

Both gerrymandering and voter suppression measures passed by white-dominated legislatures are designed to beat down voter turnout from Democrats’ most reliable voting base, urban-based ethnic minorities. The Brennan Center found ample evid­ence that the sorts of barri­ers being intro­duced this year by Republicans  dispro­por­tion­ately reduce turnout for voters of color.

Nevertheless, Democrats have also had a measurable loss of support from this constituency. In the last three presidential elections, Hispanic voters went from 70 percent to 61 percent and Black voters dropped from 97 percent to 90 percent. Asian support has consistently remained slightly above 50 percent.

A combination of more restricted access to voting and lower motivation may account for voter turnout from minority ethnic groups being less than that from white voters. For example, in 2020, the turnout of white voters ranged from 8 percent higher than Black voters to 17 percent higher than that of Hispanic voters. 

Nevertheless, organized efforts to get out the vote among key supporters is how any political party wins elections. It just becomes more challenging with laws that make voting a chore that competes with working hours or transportation limitations of lower-income voters. In addition, a disproportionate number of them are ethnic minorities. 

Ethnic minorities in three key swing states could keep a Democratic Senate

Republicans are focusing their organizing and money on defeating the Democrat incumbent senators in Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia. 

Arizona incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Kelly is a former astronaut and has just served two years in the Senate. He defeated incumbent Sen. Martha McSally (R) in a special election after the Republican Governor appointed her to a vacant seat. McSally was a white, retired Air Force colonel. The Republican Senate candidate has yet to be chosen for November, but all Republican contenders are white, very conservative males. The three top support banning abortions and deny that Trump lost his election.  

Donald Trump won Arizona in 2016 with a 3.6 percent margin; Biden skimmed by to win the 2020 race by 0.3 percent, while Kelly’s margin was 2.4 percent that same year. So, Kelly would seem to have a good shot at being reelected. However, he will have to maintain or expand the 2020 voter turnout, which was very high. Hispanic voters provided the largest minority voters at 18 percent of the electorate. However, according to Pew research, the turnout still has room to grow since the percentage of the eligible share of Hispanic voters in Arizona is 24 percent.

At least maintaining, if not expanding, the Hispanic and other minority ethnic vote is critical in securing Kelly’s Senate seat. His campaign must work outside the Democratic Party to mobilize voters. Kelly would benefit from the work of community organizations Living United for Change in Arizona, LUCHA, and the MiAZ coalition, which are aiming to mobilize one million voters of color and young voters.  The campaign organizer for LUCHA says they have registered more than half a million people to vote this year alone, knocking on 1.5 million doors across Arizona.

Although Arizona’s total Black and Asian populations are much smaller, consisting of 5 percent and 4 percent, they too are being organized. Collectively community-based organizations, including Our Voice, Our Vote Arizona, and Progress Arizona, say that 60% of Arizona’s Black registered voters cast ballots in 2020. They also have room to expand voter participation in 2022. And future expansion will happen since the current minority population in Arizona is 47 percent, with a more significant percentage of ineligible young voters than the white population. 

Nevada Incumbent Democrat Sen. Cortez Masto is challenged by Trump-endorsed former state Attorney General Republican Adam Laxalt. He caught Trump’s attention by leading legal challenges to overturn the presidential election results. Laxalt has been endorsed by two prominent anti-abortion groups Nevada Right to Life and National Right to Life.

Although Nevada voted for the Democratic Presidential candidate in the last two elections, they were by slim margins. Joe Biden won the state by just over 2 percent, as did Hillary Clinton in 2016. Consequently, Trump and the Republican Party are aiming at Masto as beatable. 

Like other November Democratic candidates, Masto is burdened by President Biden’s low approval ratings dragging down her vote. His disapproval rating was 52 percent in Nevada at the beginning of the year. So, Masto is avoiding a debate about Biden and focusing on state issues she has supported, like delivering Justice Department grants to local police departments and promoting funding to combat wildfires and drought in the infrastructure law. While those issues cut across all ethnic groups, minority groups will play a significant role in getting her reelected. 

About a third of Nevada’s total population consists of minority ethnic groups, with Hispanics being about twice the combined size of Black and Asian populations. At 20 percent, Nevada has the second highest percentage of eligible Hispanic voters of any state. And it’s expected to increase by 5.8 percent in 2022 compared to the most recent 2018 midterm election, which saw a record national turnout of Hispanic voters. About 36 percent of this expanded total of eligible Hispanic voters are expected to turn out in 2022. This level of participation would provide nearly 17 percent of the state’s total vote, just a point behind the Hispanic slice of voters in Arizona’s 2020 election.

Like Arizona, Nevada Democrats can benefit from working with broad-based community organizations to educate voters on the issues and encourage them to vote. The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) is a significant one, with a membership of nearly 30 organizations! Two of its main issues are Civic Engagement and Economic Justice, which will be largely shaped by the Senate next year.

Georgia’s first Black Senator, Incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock, is being challenged by Trump-endorsed former football star Republican Herschel Walker.  Attracting female voters may be difficult for Walker. Women have accused Walker of violent behavior, and he told reporters at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, “There’s no exception in my mind” for banning abortion. However, he did not mention making exceptions for rape, incest, or saving the mother’s life.

Georgia swing voters in the latest Axios Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups strongly support abortion rights. However, before the SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe they said that issue alone probably would not decide who they support in November’s midterm elections.

Unlike Arizona and Nevada, Hispanics make up only 6% of residents in Georgia, while Black residents are at 33%. Luckily for the Democrats, of all ethnic groups, Black voters in Georgia had the most significant increase in registration from 2016 to 2020. This trend is in line with national numbers, which show the growth of eligible Black voters moving to 12.5% of the US electorate, up from 11.5% in 2000. 

This growth appears to be coming from younger, more educated voters, particularly noticeable in Georgia and Arizona.  On the downside, Black voters’ perception of Biden being sympathetic to their concerns has slipped from 74 percent in 2020 to 66 percent in 2022. And this disappointment has been measured to be highest among the youngest voters. 

More so than any other ethnic group, including whites, Blacks see religion and morality as vital civic virtues.  Most black Democrats (57%) say churches and religious organizations do more good than harm. And the majority also believe that morality is linked to a belief in God. Democrats must consider that belief when addressing the issue of abortion. Saving a mother’s life or considering a pregnancy due to incest and rape are all conditions that appeal to the morality of terminating a pregnancy.   

Georgia has a robust organization to help overcome the state legislature’s newest voter suppression bill SB 202,which, among other things, criminalizes Georgians who give a drink of water to their neighbors while waiting in line to vote, attacks absentee voting, and allows the state to take over county elections. To counter it, the Fair Fight Actioncommunity-based political organization, led by Democrat Stacey Abrams, is in the field encouraging voter participation in elections and educating voters about elections and their voting rights. 

Democrats Can Keep Control of the Senate if they do two things 

Democrats have the votes to retain their most vulnerable Senators in November’s elections. And, data fromCatalist makes it clear where they can get them. First, they must continue to retain white college-educated voters. Over the last three presidential elections, Democrats’ support among white college-educated voters increased by 16 margin points. 

Second, they must halt the decline in support from nonwhite working-class voters, which decreased by 19 margin points over this same period. A recent Times/Siena poll shows Democrats holding a 20-point advantage over Republicans among white college-educated voters — but are statistically tied among Hispanics going into this November’s midterm elections. 

The big picture of saving our Democracy, as epitomized by Congress’s Committee on January Six hearings, is resonating with college-educated voters. Meanwhile, working-class nonwhites are more concerned about their public safety and finances. Democrats have thankfully stepped away from the “defund police” mentality and have moved toward emphasizing more police accountability, which can provide safer and more respectful police conduct in black neighborhoods. 

Banning abortion is a passionate national issue and denying access to any abortions is widely opposed. But abortion has not registered as the top issue for the Black and Hispanic communities, even though studies show that banning abortions has a significant financial burden on minority families. Accordingly, Democrats must also frame abortion as an economic issue to attract voters beyond those concerned with abrogating a constitutional right.

There is a path forward for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate and perhaps even the House. But it is a narrow one that requires discipline in messaging understandable and believable solutions and not relying on slogans. 

Nick Licata is the author of

Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties.

           Now available on Amazon as a Kindle edition for $9.99

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