If you ask Crystal Wright the narrative of black Republican women being ostracized by other black voters in their community with online pitchforks and vitriol comments is an old story.
Wright, the founder of the Conservative Black Chick blog, said that with a presidential election just 13 months away the more important thing to examine is why black voters feel a blind loyalty to the Democratic Party.
“You have this generational mentality that many blacks believe they should vote Democrat and they can’t tell you why,” according to Wright, a Republican herself.
She created her blog in 2009 out of frustration with being told she should be a Democrat because she was black. She was also tired of her opinion pieces being edited down by conservative blogs she contributed to.
As 10 Republican candidates prepare for the next debate, black women have more choices than ever for the 2016 presidential election but it’s unclear whether they can be wooed from Democrats.
In the last two presidential elections, black women voted overwhelmingly Democratic, casting their support for Barack Obama. A National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Essence Magazine poll released in September found that 88 percent of black women surveyed said they would vote for Obama again in 2016 If they could.
But the Republican National Committee sees a window of opportunity this next election cycle.
According to CNN exit polls, during the 2014 elections 10 percent of blacks voted Republican, with 89 percent voting Democratic. Those double digit numbers are a sign that some of their new tactics are getting black voters to listen.
“I think what voters appreciate is hearing ‘my party has had problems with race and I want to know how we can do better’. That’s what gets people to listen.”
While black women are most likely to vote Democrat, presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton can’t take their vote for granted, according to Tara Wall, senior strategist for media and engagement at the Republican National Committee. She said black women need to consider the growing gaps in economics, unemployment and wealth that they’ve seen under the Obama administration.
“If you’re voting for Democratic candidates in the past several years, [ask yourself] what have they done to close these gaps?,” Wall said. “Where are the solutions?”
She said it’s important for black voters to be actively engaged in what both parties are presenting, “and not assume that there aren’t concerned Republicans out there working to change communities.”
Leah Wright Rigueur, an assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and author of “The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power”, said black women use their race as a guiding principle when voting.
“If black women see someone they can identify with politically and personhood wise that informs whatever decision they make when it comes to the polls,” Rigueur said.
Affordable healthcare, livable wage jobs and college affordability are the most important issues among black women voters, according to the NCBCP and Essence Magazine survey.
Among the 1,862 black women surveyed online, the results showed they were interested in presidential candidates who could improve law enforcement/community relations, reduce taxes for low and middle income people and increase the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour. Reproductive choices, expanding voting rights, earned paid time/family leave, entrepreneurship opportunity and immigration reform were other top issues for black women voters, according to the survey.
Among survey participants 78 percent said that the Democratic Party best represented the interests of black women, while only 1 percent said the same of Republicans. Eighteen percent said no party had black women’s interests in mind.
“Once you fire up a black woman she doesn’t go to the polls alone. It’s a constituency all candidates should be interested in talking to in an authentic way.”
Republicans’ historically conservative stance on women and race issues “automatically alienates black women”, according to Rigueur. Meanwhile she said the Democratic Party is seen as something of a “venue of uplift” to black women. Republicans have work to do this election cycle but it’s still possible to engage black women.
“I think what voters appreciate is hearing ‘my party has had problems with race and I want to know how we can do better’,” Rigueur said. “That’s what people want to hear. That’s what gets people to listen.”
Republicans are taking notes.
In March 2013 the Republican National Committee released its Growth and Opportunity Project report, which gave a 100 page honest introspection on why the party lost in the 2012 elections and how they can capture more voters.
The report also mapped out 10 recommendations on how to engage black voters -- from speaking to HBCUs, to developing a database of black leaders, to reaching out to black organizations to studying tactics of Republicans who won in predominately black districts.
“We are never going to win over voters who are not asked for their support,” according to the report. “Too many African American voters have gotten in the habit of supporting Democrats without hearing anyone in their community making a case to the contrary.”
Since the report was released, the committee has opened offices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Detroit and is mobilizing staffers to talk to black voters. The RNC is ramping up efforts to visit churches, go door knocking and show up at events for predominantly black organizations like local Urban League and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapters.
In July the RNC and Radio One networks teamed up for its #CommittedToCommunity campaign which included issue forums and events in communities of color as well as a radio ad campaign. The committee has also been on a data collection spree with black Republicans and staffers equipped with iPads giving voter surveys and gathering feedback about the party during community events.
Orlando Watson, communications director for black media at the RNC, said that Republicans are taking these multi-faceted efforts seriously to court the black vote.
“The Republican Party is one big team and what we’re doing at RNC is very specific but our ultimate goal is to put our nominee in the best position to connect with black voters, “ Watson said.
Glynda C. Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights for America, a national organization focused on getting black women elected to office, said that outreach to black women isn’t enough. Black women want to be politically involved.
Carr points out that Republican Utah Rep. Mia Love’s congressional win in 2014 is an example of the possibilities of how black women could win in predominantly white districts. She said the Republican Party needs to be more diligent about encouraging and investing in black women candidates, not having them as placeholders during campaign seasons.
“Once you fire up a black woman she doesn’t go to the polls alone,” Carr said. “It’s a constituency all candidates should be interested in talking to in an authentic way.”
Wright said that while she supports her party, Republicans still have a lot of work to do on the diversity front. However, she said Donald Trump’s candidacy is an example of how anyone can come in at any time and shake up a political party.
“Until the party gets people who look like America saying ‘hey we welcome you’ it’s going to be hard for blacks to take the party seriously when they don’t see themselves reflected in leadership and state chapters,” Wright said. “However, nobody owns the party or holds the key to the party...it’s just as much my party as it is yours.”