The Pulse

Racism, reproductive rights and inflation top concerns for voters of color heading into ’22 midterm

By: - October 21, 2022 11:54 am
Concerns about the growing hostility toward communities of color has risen dramatically in the wake of the killings George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the killing of six Asian American women in Georgia. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Leaders from six national racial justice organizations presented polling data they’ve conducted that shows widespread concern about racism, reproductive rights and eroding economic stability, while also suggesting that voters are increasingly concerned that leaders from both political parties are becoming more out of touch with the realities they face.

The data presented by the Advancement Project, the NAACP, UnidosUs, the National Congress of American Indians, Demos and the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, noted consistently high levels of engagement, especially among young voters, but also showed that several different issues are motivating multiracial voters which are different than the issues of two years ago in 2020.

For example, the topic of addressing racism and reproductive rights have become top priorities since the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and six Asian American women in Georgia. Also, both liberal and conservative voters shared a concern with reproductive rights and freedoms, including abortion.

Many leaders highlighted a constant concern about the economy, especially with the steep rise in inflation, leaving communities of color which were struggling economically before the COVID-19 pandemic in crisis because of the cost of food, housing and gasoline.

“We want to see our voices valued 24-7, 365 days a year, not just on Election Day and that means a continuous conversation,” said Taifa Butler of Demos, an organization that studies and advocates for racial equity in democracy. “The economic struggles have been broadly felt but not equally distributed.”

Her organization has found that in addition to the economic hardships of stagnant pay and rising costs, reproductive justice has been added to women’s fight.

“Americans are increasingly frustrated to see that their opinions are in one direction and Congress is moving in another,” said Clarissa Martinez, Vice President at UnidosUS Latino Vote Initiative.

Saving Native culture

Larry Wright Jr., the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said that voters in Indian Country are concerned about several cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, one which has been decided, the other which is currently under review.

A recent Supreme Court ruling, Oklahoma vs. Castro-Huerta, changed the way that states can prosecute crimes on reservation lands.

“The Supreme Court has discounted 250 years of history and allowed the state criminal justice system to encroach upon our tribal sovereignty,” Wright said.

The other case will decide the fate of the Indian Child Welfare Act which seeks to keep families and tribal communities whole in cases of child neglect and abuse. A challenge to the act is asking the court to rule ICWA unconstitutional because some say it discriminates against white people.

“Our allies understand that our cultures cannot exist without our children,” Wright said.

Wright said these two cases have made national politics a motivator for Native American communities. He also said that tribal communities are concerned about the number of laws being proposed or passed to restrict voting.

While Native Americans are worried about the future, Wright said they’re also seeing the power of their voice. In seven states, the number of Indigenous votes were more than margins of difference, meaning that Native votes were a key difference in elections, he said.

“Native people’s voices had a role in swinging elections,” he said.

A slide from a presentation by the NAACP showing the most important issues for Black voters in the 2022 midterms (Courtesy NAACP and the Advancement Project).

Racism a motivator

Jamal Watkins, NAACP senior vice president of Strategy and Advancement, said that a combination of polling, focus groups and panels has revealed that concerns about racism topped the list for Black voters. However, all panelists said concerns about the growing hostility toward communities of color has risen dramatically in the past two years.

Watkins said that polling, coupled with voter registration information, reveals that African Americans can play a key role in determining the outcome of high-profile races if they turn out at the polls. He highlighted the organization’s efforts in Georgia, North Carolina and Michigan as places where African-American voters can play an outsized role.

“Black voters are often taken for granted,” Watkins said. “If 3% percent of Black men in Georgia vote in a certain way, Herschel Walker is the next senator from Georgia.”

Top issues identified by NAACP for Black voters in 2022

Watkins said one of the surprising trends was the meteoric rise of the issue of racism, and how many other key issues it touches upon.

“Many issues fall under racism,” Watkins said, adding for example, the job market, healthcare and crime all have nexus points wi

thin the broader context of racism.

Data the NAACP presented demonstrated that nearly 1 in 5 Black Americans have changed jobs since 2020, and 23% have skipped attending to medical issues because of a lack of healthcare. Fifteen percent of African Americans said they have seen their pay decrease.

Watkins said most African-American women are motivated by the threat of loss of reproductive freedom.

Hispanic voters aren’t monolithic

Martinez said that for too long the Latino vote has been seen as monolithic, but the reality is more nuanced.

While 8 in 10 Latino voters are concerned with white supremacy, nearly an identical number are concerned about abortion and oppose restrictions on women’s health.

Martinez said that even among conservative voters, those numbers are the same. For example, 76% of Catholic Latino voters believe “it’s wrong to make abortion illegal and take that choice away from others.”

In the most recent surveying and polling UnidosUS has completed, Martinez said gun violence and abortion have risen to the top five issues.

“These (priorities) have also put an exclamation point on jobs, inflation and the cost of living,” Martinez said. “We have yet to recover fully from the pandemic and the cost of living continues to go up.”

She characterized Latino voters as “unconvinced” by either party, noting that support for both the Democrats and Republicans are “underwater” from their historical heights.

“So this narrative of seismic shifts to the Republicans is not supported,” Martinez said, with about half of Latino voters identifying as Democrat, while one-third for Republican.

Ignored voters

Juliet K. Choi, president of Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, said that Asian voters were among the highest invested voters and least courted.

As the fastest growing minority segment in the United States, she said 50% of Asian voters have not been contacted by either party.

Healthcare topped the list of concerns for Asian voters, with 90% saying it was top-of-mind. However, healthcare took on different dimensions ranging from the rising cost of prescription drug prices to access to healthcare services for women.

Top issues for the 2022 election identified by Asian & Pacific Islander health forum

One of the key areas that Asian voters wanted to see was more access to care for children and the elderly, something that bookends the spectrum of life.

She said that racism has also played a prominent role in conversations with leaders as federal agencies have repeatedly said that hate crimes against Asian Americans remains substantially underreported.

“We have to do more to mitigate anti-Asian hate,” she said. “Our voices are underestimated and undercounted.”

Younger voters

One of the trends that many of the groups noted was a higher-than-average participation rate among the “Gen Z” voters, usually characterized as 18-to-24-year-olds. Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, said that this is “the protest generation,” who first may have turned out to protest police brutality in cases like the George Floyd murder.

A whopping 87% said they’re concerned about and believe in reproductive freedom and abortion rights, ranking them higher than healthcare or the economy, Dianis said.

Inflation and housing concerns round out other top concerns for voters in this demographic.

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, which first published this report.

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