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Donovan A. Watts

March 13th, 2024

Black party loyalty is wavering, and the Democratic Party must pay attention.

0 comments | 6 shares

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Donovan A. Watts

March 13th, 2024

Black party loyalty is wavering, and the Democratic Party must pay attention.

0 comments | 6 shares

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Historically, Black voters in the US have supported the Democratic Party. But after successive Democratic victories at the national and state level, and seemingly few tangible benefits for the Black community, this support is beginning to waver, writes Donovan A. Watts. In new research which analyses the party identification of Black Americans, he finds that Black millennials – the largest voting bloc within the Black community – have doubts in their support for Democrats.

Over the years, one of the longest known political norms within the Black community has been unwavering loyalty to the Democratic Party. This is largely due to the Democratic Party’s willingness to support racial policy positions in favor of Black interests. Moreover, Black non-millennials (Black Baby boomers and Gen X’ers) came of age experiencing prominent leaders in the Democratic Party making substantive changes in their lives. In turn, the tangible benefits received from the Democratic Party, coupled with the Republican Party not presenting itself as a viable option, led to much of the party loyalty that we see today from Black non-millennials. Because of this, the Democratic Party has viewed the Black electorate as a loyal voting bloc who could be relied upon for support in campaign elections.

However, we are seeing evidence of differences across the Black community with respect to Black Democratic Party loyalty. More specifically, Black millennials are not showing the same loyalty toward the Democratic Party that their predecessors did. In fact, despite the historic outcomes that have taken place within the Democratic Party – such as the first Black president, Black millennials believe that they have not seen tangible benefits from the party which has resulted in growing frustration. With this in mind, and with recent election cycles showing a reluctance among Black millennials to support the Democratic Party, in new research, I take a closer look at Black Democratic Party loyalty.

Here are my takeaways: First, Black millennials are not as loyal to the Democratic Party as Black non-millennials. Next, there is no evidence that Black millennials are shifting party loyalties to the Republican or third party. In fact, Black millennials still support the Democratic Party, however, the Democratic Party must earn Black millennials’ vote. Lastly, although the Democratic Party does not have to focus on Black millennials changing party loyalties anytime soon, Black millennials are willing to withhold their vote if the Democratic Party’s views do not align with their own.

Understanding Black Democratic Party loyalty 

To test my argument, I employed a mixed methods approach. In the Fall of 2022, I conducted 14 in-depth semi-structured virtual individual interviews. To be included, participants needed to fit two criteria: they identified as Black or African American and needed to be born between 1946 and 1996. Prior to each interview, participants were given the objectives of my study and compensated $20 for their participation.

The first question that I asked respondents was a two-part question to analyze party identification: “Do you think of yourself as a Republican, Independent, or Democrat”. Here, the respondents overwhelmingly identify as Democrats, however, there was some indecisiveness while answering this question from Black millennials.

R2: “I know I need to answer your question directly, which I don’t want to but yeah I would say Democrat.”

Respondent 2, who is a Black millennial male, is close with his dad, and was influenced by the political conversations that he had with him. Whenever his dad gave him a perspective on politics that the respondent did not know, this led to him second guessing his party affiliation. Likewise, Respondent 4, a Black millennial male, initially chose to identify as an Independent, but reconsidered his response and changed to Democrat.

DSC00723” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Professional Association of Milwaukee Public Educa

R4: “Ideally, I would like to be independent. However, just because of how everything is being portrayed lately, I would say more of a Democrat.”

Respondent 4 paused before answering the question, and his response suggested that he wanted to remain partial, even if it was not aligned with his interest. On the other hand, I found that Black millennial women were more decisive in their response to this question.

R11: “Okay, so I would say Democrat for sure.”

R12: “I’m a Democrat.”

Respondents 11 and 12 are Black millennial women, and highly involved in their local communities and state government. The following respondent is a Black non-millennial male, and proudly identifies as a Democrat.

R5: “I would definitely consider myself a Democrat”.

Respondent 5 showed no hesitancy answering the question, and even smiled with a sense of pride while providing their answer. After asking my initial question, this was directly followed up by asking respondents, “Would you consider yourself to be a strong, not very strong, or lean Republican, Independent or Democrat.” Here, I continue to see variation with Black millennial and Black non-millennial responses. Continuing with the most recent respondent I discussed (R5), he identified as a strong Democrat.

R5: “I will consider myself a strong Democrat, and probably because I think the party has or aligns more with social issues or legislation that relates to me and my group of people.” 

Although this response required more thinking on Respondent 5’s end, he continued to display his pride with the Democratic Party when answering this question. Respondent 2 and Respondent 4 were on the fence with respect to the strength of their Democratic Party identification.

R4: “I would say more of a lean Democrat with a progressive ideology.”

R2: “I don’t really identify myself with a political party because of how my dad voted, and he voted for Trump.”

Interestingly here is the process in which both R2 and R4 went through while providing this answer. Both respondents took time to think through this question and continued to answer with a sense of indecisiveness. Additionally, Respondents 11 and 12 identify as strong Democrats, but express issues that the party must address.

R12: “I’m a strong Democrat that believes in the core values, I just think there is a lot of stuff we have to work on.”

R11: “I would say strong Democrat for sure, but the caveat is that I do feel like there is more that the Democratic Party can do for issues that impact Black folks.”

Black party loyalty going forward

My work carries broader implications for party politics as my findings show that Black millennial party loyalties are not what we have come to expect with Black non-millennials. Furthermore, as Black millennials now represent the largest voting bloc within the Black community, they desire tangible benefits that will impact their everyday lives. While the Democratic Party will argue that the Black unemployment rate is the lowest in years and President Joe Biden has provided billions of dollars in federal funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Had Biden fought more to cancel student debt, that would have instilled a level of confidence among Black millennials that the Democratic Party would work to accomplish their campaign goals. Instead, there is continued uncertainty among Black millennials and their loyalties to the Democratic Party.

About the author

Donovan A. Watts

Donovan A. Watts is currently a visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Drake University, and incoming Assistant Professor of Political Science at Auburn University. His research interest includes American politics, with a focus on Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, Black Politics, Political Behavior, and Political Socialization. His dissertation is a generational analysis, and focuses on how the racialization of American politics has shaped the political behaviors of Black millennials.

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