3 things Black voters learned and didn’t learn from Tuesday’s off-year elections

OPINION: theGrio's Jason Johnson writes there were good and bad results for Black voters on Election Day, as well as some lessons to be learned now that the dust has settled

As a general rule it’s not good to jump onto too much analysis of an election 24 hours after people have cast votes. There’s a tendency to hot take the results to death, to proclaim with loud click-baity certainty that what just happened will reverberate for years to come positively or negatively for some party.

This is especially important for Black voters who are so often erased from public discourse about campaigns until some Democrat loses, in which case someone inevitably blames us for our lack of fealty to a party that treats us like a side-piece on the holidays. There were good and bad results for Black voters on Tuesday and by extension some lessons to be learned that didn’t become clear until the dust settled.

With that being said, here is a short list of what we learned and what we didn’t learn from this past Tuesday’s elections.

We learned reboots don’t work

In Hollywood, like it or not, reboots often work. We’re about to see the 6th white guy play Batman on screen next summer, The Equalizer has been a hit (both the Denzel Washington and Queen Latifah versions), and despite the show reeking of white respectability politics it looks like the Wonder Years — which is being rebooted with a Black family this time around — has captured an audience.

In politics, however, reboots often don’t work. That was one lesson from the Virginia elections where Terry McAuliffe, who squeaked by to win the governorship by 2% points in 2013, came back to run again in 2021 and was defeated by Republican Glenn Youngkin with just by 2% between them. McAuliffe didn’t run a terrible campaign, but he was never a candidate that was going to inspire Black voters, even though they turned out for him at high numbers.

We learned passion still rules politics

Justin Bibb
Justin Bibb was elected the next mayor of Cleveland, who will usher in 16 straight years of the city having a Black mayor. (Photo: Neighbors for Justin Bibb)

Black candidates that actually inspire people and galvanized the base and talked about policies and issues that matter to voters did pretty well in some races across the country on Tuesday. In Cleveland, voters passed Issue 24, creating an oversight committee for the police department for the first time in the city’s history.

They also elected Justin Bibb who will usher in 16 straight years of the city having a Black mayor. Chris Suggs, 21, was elected to the Kinston North Carolina City Council becoming the youngest elected official in the state. Additionally, Sheila Oliver, the Lt. governor of New Jersey was re-elected on Tuesday to remain one of only three Democratic Black women Lt. governors in America (Julianna Straton D-Il and Sabina Matos D-Rhode Island).

We learned history can still be made

It was easy to see gloom and doom on Tuesday. Virginia elected Trumpist Glenn Youngkin and his Lt. Governor Winsome Sears who DNA tests have confirmed is the third Diamond and Silk sister. In New Jersey, incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy and Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver were barely re-elected despite polls showing them with a commanding lead just days before the election.

However, as summed up eloquently by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC Thursday night, this was better than expected for Joe Biden. In the last 30 years the first-year incumbent president’s party has lost both the New Jersey and Virginia governor’s elections. In 1989 during George H.W. Bush’s first year in office Republicans lost Virginia and New Jersey, and in 1993, Bill Clinton’s first year in office saw Democrats also lose Virginia and New Jersey. This year Biden only lost one governorship, in Virginia, and that wasn’t blowout. So anyone who thinks the future is set should know that after Murphy was declared victorious Wednesday night, Joe Biden made history.

We didn’t learn that White Americans love racism

Remember that ancient African proverb “We tried to tell you?” Is there anyone out there in the world of politics who’s shocked that White women in Virginia did what White women in American politics have always done? The Democratic consulting class spends millions of dollars courting suburban White women only to see these collective Lucys snatch the ballot football away on Election Day. Every. Single. Time.

In Virginia there was a double-digit swing of non-college educated white women from Joe Biden in 2020 to Glenn Youngkin in 2021. Black organizers on the ground have been telling Democratic elites that these polls ain’t loyal when it comes to numbers suggesting White women’s potential affinity for Democrats. In the end, the majority of them will vote Republican even as that GOP tries to repeal Roe v. Wade and treat a twice impeached accused rapist in Florida (Donald Trump) as their lord and savior.  

We didn’t learn a thing about 2022 or 2024

A year ago, Joe Biden was elected president with 81 million votes. He won Georgia and Arizona, two deeply red states that hadn’t voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since the 90s back when Biden was passing policy to throw Black folks in jail and Trump was doing cameos in porn movies. Now this week Biden’s approval ratings are underwater, he looks impotent when it comes to passing his own agenda and there were some dangerous undercurrents in the Tuesday election results.

But that tells us absolutely nothing about the 2022 midterms or the 2024 presidential election. Why? Because a year is a lifetime in politics. In November 2020, there was no vaccine and you were still taking your life in your own hands in choosing to fly for Thanksgiving. Now Americans are back to fighting on airplanes and arguing with our families again. Next fall could be a much better or worse environment for Democrats electorally, we just don’t know. Further, Glenn Youngkin literally doesn’t have his name on an office door yet, so let’s not crown him the next GOP 2024 contender, especially since he’d have to wait in line behind several others.

We didn’t learn if Joe Biden is listening

President Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the October jobs reports in the State Dining Room at the White House on November 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

We have no idea what Joe Biden is thinking after Tuesday’s elections, and that could be a good thing or a bad thing. Joe Biden has a spotty record with Black voters; as a U.S. senator, his crime bill put hundreds of thousands of Black people in jail. His racial gaffes in the 2020 campaign from the Corn Pop story to saying “If you have a problem figuring out if you’re for me or Trump then you ain’t Black” has left a sour taste in the mouth of Black voters.

As president, Biden has signed into law some policies that have helped everyone, from COVID-19 relief money earlier this year to ending the war in Afghanistan which brings thousands of Black men and women home to safety. However, when it comes to things that are specifically owed to Black voters, the ones who gave him the nomination in South Carolina and propelled him to the White House by flipping Georgia, the results haven’t been forthcoming.

Biden hasn’t done a thing on police reform (in fact he’s done the opposite), his response to calls for voting reform have been basically “do your own research,” and symbolically, his limp response to Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping Black people left a lot to be desired. In other words, if Joe Biden wants to maintain his presidency beyond next year, and if he wants to learn a lesson from Tuesday, it’s that he needs to deliver specific targeted policy benefits to Black voters. Otherwise he can kiss his presidency goodbye.

Jason Johnson theGrio.com

Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Politics and Journalism at Morgan State University, a Political Contributor at MSNBC and SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio. Notorious comic book and sports guy with dual Wakandan and Zamundan citizenship.

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