WEIGHING PUBLIC OPINION, TARGETING THE RIGHT VOTERS

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The Value / Vote Analysis for People of Color

By Kirk Clay

Growing up in Toledo, I can remember when a local sports team would win the city championship and advance to the state tournament. The affect it had on the community was tremendous. It energized us, and gave us a sense of achievement for our community and for the entire the city. It united all of Toledo.  In contrast, I’m not sure what to make of the recent firestorm over Chrysler’s NFL “Halftime In America” ad.

The ad seems to be a story about how one of our nation’s greatest companies is recovering from an economic downturn and now bouncing back to regain its role in the auto industry, the city of Detroit and the nation.  It reminds us that with hard work and tough decisions, we can bounce back.  Yet some politicians are complaining.  They believe the ad was not appropriate and some even suggest that it was promoting a partisan message.

Back in Toledo, we believed that a victory for our neighborhood was a victory for our city. So we always cheered for the home team. This applied to sports as well as politics. Even early in my career, all my impressions were centered by my father’s philosophy. “Son,” he would say bouncing a ball off his foot for effect, “you have to cheer a friend to endear a friend.”

In the 90’s, I remember working with a number of progressive partners to defeat a regressive ballot initiative in Colorado. I remember how challenging it was to excite People of Color (POC) about something they really didn’t identify with but were impacted by. We started down 20 points but after an aggressive public education campaign defeated the initiative by 12 points.  This happened because everyone was included and all segments of the community worked together as a team.

Fast forward a decade–the fruits of that kind of work were on full display at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. The event represented the culmination of a collective effort by Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans to encourage the election of the first Person of Color to the highest office of the land.

As I walked the city, going from event to event, we couldn’t help but to notice how unified the people were. There was something in the air. It had nothing to do with its thinness, although I did get a nosebleed one night.

In fact, I wondered if this was just something about those of us visiting the area or if people who lived in Denver felt the same way. So I went to one of Denver’s oldest African American neighborhoods, the historic Five Points community, in search of the real spirit.

I talked with a few residents and came to the conclusion that many were just as emboldened as the convention goers. In fact, many believed that any step forward for a person of color was a victory for every American. They referred to Denver’s long progressive history. They talked about the Buffalo soldiers, early Hispanic settlers, and the hundreds of activist that helped to give women more political and economic equality.

I asked them about the contours of Colorado’s current electorate. They told me about ex-Gov. Owens, and how Colorado had turned blue. They reminded me that even in 2004 when President Bush was re-elected and the GOP picked up seats on the Hill, the Democrats withstood the national surge. They took control of both houses in the Legislature and won a U.S. Senate seat. Moreover, in 2006 the governor’s office turned blue.

What the 2010 Census has revealed is that Colorado underwent a political geographical transformation. Note that President Obama won by 9%, the Democrats added another U.S. Senator, and they took five of the seven congressional seats. Moreover, people of color (POC) were 14% of the state’s vote share in 2008.  We saw more evidence of this shift in 2010 when during a wave year for the Tea Party, Colorado’s POC voters increased to 19% of the vote share and pushed the progressive statewide candidate over the top.

The truth is that the 2010 census only explains part of the story. Yes, the Denver population grew by 8.2% to 600,158 people and it currently has over 130,000 key POC voters. But it took the inspiration that the POC political leadership felt from the progressive community for so many to participate in the electoral process.  In fact progressive philanthropists and think tanks have invested resources in these communities for years.

The optimism of these progressive leaders continues to create opportunities for the POC political leaders to demonstrate their talents, skills, and value. Like my father says, we must understand that supporting a diverse team of political leaders will ultimately create an environment for success.

Rooting for higher POC voter registration rates, increased civic participation rates, and a more fair enforcement of civil and human rights laws only emboldens democracy. Progressive leaders understand that any victory for the team is a victory for America. That’s popping the clutch. 

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 Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPac

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