2018 Campaigns Focused More on Black Economic Progress Than Ever Before

By Black Economic Alliance |

As voters across America head to the polls today to cast their ballots in races that will determine leadership from the halls of Congress to their state capitols, it’s clear the 2018 midterm cycle marks a significant shift in the conversation around a Black economic agenda.

In the closing months of the election season, the Black Economic Alliance invested $3.6MM in nationally-watched congressional, U.S. Senate, and gubernatorial races in more than a dozen states to advocate for candidates committed to advancing economic opportunity for Black Americans. Together, with our partners on the ground, we’ve forced a discussion on how elected leaders must prioritize policies that will end the decades-long downward spiral in work, wages, and wealth that is harming the Black community – and the broader national economy.

Engagement on Black economic issues long overdue 

The dire economic trends facing Black Americans are both grim and well-documented. Across a variety of economic measures, the Black community has fallen increasingly behind other demographic groups over the past five decades – from average wages to home ownership, from educational attainment to workforce development. At the same time, Black Americans are overwhelmingly missing out on the jobs of the future.  Today, Black Americans make up just 6.8% of technology jobs with a paltry 1.1% of those jobs in high-paying, high skilled engineering jobs in the sector. While unemployment levels among Black Americans hit record lows earlier in 2018, the community continues to lag behind other groups, with nearly double the unemployment rate of Caucasians and significantly higher unemployment than Hispanics. As one Atlanta woman described the challenges in a Black Economic Alliance survey of Black voters: “They build more apartments, I can’t afford one. They’re building more houses, I can’t buy one. All these new jobs, I don’t have the right degrees to get one.”

Despite these dismal statistics, there has not been an organized effort to elect leaders in either Congress or the Governor’s Mansions who will champion policies that promote economic opportunity for Black Americans – until now.

These issues compelled a group of top Black executives and aligned advocates to form the Black Economic Alliance earlier this year – to demand that our elected leaders and candidates for office commit to advancing an economic agenda that provides opportunity for Black Americans and to ensure this critical discussion continues well beyond Election Day. Our organization went through a rigorous vetting and interview process with 26 candidates who pledged to be champions for Black economic progress. The Black Economic Alliance has contributed directly to these candidate campaigns, developed economic messaging targeted towards Black voters, and worked with a variety of grassroots organizations to help get out the vote for:

  • Seven gubernatorial candidates: Stacey Abrams (GA), Richard Cordray (OH), Andrew Gillum (FL), Ben Jealous (MD), James Smith (SC), Gretchen Whitmer (MI), Tom Wolf (PA).
  • Five Senate candidates: Phil Bredesen (TN), Mike Espy (MS), Bill Nelson (FL), U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (VA), Beto O’Rourke (TX).
  • Fourteen Congressional candidates: Colin Allred (TX-32), Lauren Baer (FL-18),  Linda Coleman (NC-02), Joe Cunningham (SC-01), Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07), Steven Horsford (NV-04), Brendan Kelly (IL-12), Elaine Luria (VA-02), Kathy Manning (NC-13), Lucy McBath (GA-06), Debbie Powell (FL-26), Clarke Tucker (AR-02), and Lauren Underwood (IL-14)

For the critical 2018 midterm elections, the Black Economic Alliance has primarily endorsed candidates in key races in states and districts where there is a significant Black population and voter turnout in our communities could be decisive – and where the data analytics show our support can have an impact. As of the opening of the polls this morning, several of the candidates endorsed by the Black Economic Alliance remain locked in extraordinarily close races that will likely be decided on the margins.

Black Economic Alliance invested $3.6MM in 2018 elections

Over the past several months, the Black Economic Alliance has worked to translate an unprecedented level of grassroots engagement this cycle into support for our endorsed candidates through concerted on-the-ground GOTV efforts with partners including the Collective PAC, BlackPAC, For Our Future Fund, NAACP National Voter Fund, House Majority PAC, Power PAC, Together We Rise, state parties, and others.

Overall, the Black Economic Alliance has invested more than $3.6MM in the 2018 cycle, including $1MM in Florida, $350,000 in Georgia, and $350,000 in Mississippi. Across 12 states, the Black Economic Alliance has supported:

  • Canvassing and other direct organizing activities to persuade voters on the issues and GOTV
  • Paid advertising on targeted radio stations and online
  • Direct mail to reach voters of all ages
  • Message development and polling

We’re optimistic heading into Election Day, with early vote figures up significantly in states where the Black Economic Alliance and its partners have been active – including in Georgia, where voters have cast nearly as many ballots during early voting as they did in the full 2014 cycle (2.1 million votes); in Texas, where early voting has exceeded overall vote tallies in 2014 (5.8 million), and in other states that have seen ballot numbers outpace previous midterm elections such as Tennessee, Michigan, Florida, and Nevada.

Black voters are motivated to participate and care about economic issues

Engaging and mobilizing people of color generally and Black voters specifically has been a significant focus for many groups cycle after cycle. But what has been missing is a particular focus on kitchen table issues – a discussion of the economic policies that disproportionately impact Black families. That’s our organization’s focus in 2018 and our chief strategy to affect the record turnout numbers we are helping to drive this year and for years to come.

Black voters are clear they are motivated by the issues. In a survey of five battleground states this year – Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, and Tennessee – the Black Economic Alliance found Black voters believe economic conditions are getting worse for African Americans. In the words of a male respondent from Detroit: “It’s not that the economy isn’t working for us, it is just working for the people it was built to work for. It was never supposed to work for us.”  The survey found that fully 56 percent of Black voters are following midterm election news and political information “very closely,” and they were more likely to vote in 2018 based on the issues. Drop-off voters and undecided voters are especially more motivated by the need to support issues important to the Black community, with 50 percent and 58 percent, respectively, indicating an issue agenda as a primary impetus for voting this year.

Lessons learned in 2018 will help the Black Economic Alliance build for the future

In a few short hours, the 2018 midterm elections will draw to a close and the Black Economic Alliance will use the lessons learned on the ground this year to inform our work in 2020 and beyond. Moving forward, we will continue to work with elected leaders who are committed to supporting economic opportunity for Black Americans, trumpeting good policies and pushing hard for meaningful change.