Diane talks with Theodore Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and an expert in race and electoral politics.
In the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, black voters turned out in record numbers for Barack Obama. But with early voting underway in more than a dozen states, there are reports that African-American turnout might be lower than the previous two elections. Black voters have historically supported Democrats but some are expressing disillusionment and despair at the choices in this election. And others say new voting restrictions in key battleground states are suppressing black and minority votes. Diane and guests discuss what we know about African-American voters based on early election returns, and what it could mean for the outcome of the presidential race.
- Perry Bacon Senior political reporter, NBC News
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg National correspondent, The New York Times
- Barrett Holmes Pitner Columnist, The Daily Beast and The Guardian; covers politics, race and culture
- Tasha Philpot Professor of government, University of Texas, Austin; author of "Race, Republicans, and the Return of the Party of Lincoln"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. More than 27 million Americans have already cast ballots in the presidential election. Some reports indicate fewer African Americans have voted early this year compared to the previous two elections and that's causing some concern for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Joining me to talk about what's on the minds of African-American voters, how many are voting early and what that could indicate for the outcome of the election, Perry Bacon of NBC News, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times and Barrett Holmes Pitner of The Daily Beast and The Guardian.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from a studio in Austin, Texas, Tasha Philpot of the University of Texas. We do welcome your comments, questions. As always, you are one of the guests on this program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thank you all for joining us.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGThank you, Diane.
MR. PERRY BACONThanks for having me.
MR. BARRETT HOLMES PITNERThank you.
REHMGood to have you with us.
MS. TASHA PHILPOTThank you for having me.
REHMSheryl, a story in your paper yesterday talked about black voters turning out in lower numbers in key states. Explain what your colleagues at the Times were talking about.
STOLBERGWell, this is a troubling trend for Hillary Clinton. We know that black voters are a very, very important part of the Democratic base and in 2008 and 2012, they came out in droves for Barack Obama. In fact, in 2012, for the first time on record, black voting outpaced the white voting. Now, what we're seeing and what my colleagues reported in the Times yesterday is that black turnout in key states in early voting is behind what it was. It's soft.
STOLBERGSo, for instance, in North Carolina, black turnout is down 16 percent, but what turnout is up 15 percent. North Carolina is a very important states. In Florida, the share of the black electorate who has gone to the polls early is at 15 percent now, down from 25 percent in 2012. So these are very troubling trends for Mrs. Clinton and also for Democrats as a whole because they need to get these voters to the polls in order to win.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times. Perry Bacon, you looked at the same numbers. You came to a different conclusion.
BACONNot a different conclusion, but I think the one thing to keep in mind is that, like Sheryl said, is that black voters voted higher than white voters in 2012. So I don't think that -- I assume that would happen again. And I think that if you look at the data, it suggests that the black voters in North Carolina, at least, are turning out at about the levels the polls suggested they would and so even if it's a little bit lower than 2012, it's not as if -- it's hard to see a group who's supporting you with 90 percent of their votes, is not excited about you.
BACONSo she is still doing pretty well and it looks like the black vote will be slightly lower than 2012, but not -- but I expected that. So it's what I was more getting at.
REHMSo Barrett Pitner, do you think black voters are less enthused about Democrats this year?
PITNERWell, I could say they're less enthused about Hillary Clinton compared to Barack Obama, but...
BACONI think all Democrats are that, first of all, but...
PITNERRight. There's nothing unique about that. But I think the reason that we're seeing these poll numbers isn't necessarily solely due to a lack of enthusiasm. There's been a series of voting restrictions, voter ID laws. North Carolina, the U.S. circuit court said that they were targeting black voters with surgical precision. So there is obvious evidence that there have been tactics used that may have caused the black voter participation to drop in early voting.
PITNERLike, just the reduction of time that you have to vote early or the cutting of early voting on the weekends. So there's been measures that have impacted black early voting.
REHMAnd Tasha Philpot, you've looked at the early voting data as well. Do you see lower turnout for black voters?
PHILPOTYeah. You do see slightly lower, but you know, I hesitate to make any real conclusions from the North Carolina data for many of the same reasons the other panelists have said. You know, just the other day, polling places -- more polling places in North Carolina opened and lo and behold, turnout increased. So you have a lot of reasons why turnout has been lower other than the candidates themselves. I mean, there have reasons -- there have been concerted efforts to suppress the black vote in many of these key states and it's working slightly.
PHILPOTSo you see slightly lower voter turnout in some of these areas. But when you start to lift some of these barriers to voting, the voter turnout among blacks is starting to inch back towards where it was in 2012.
REHMCan somebody tell me what these barriers look like, what they have done to suppress voting? How about you, Barrett?
PITNERYeah. In a nutshell, voting groups vote slightly differently and the African-Americans, on average, if you looked at 2008 and 2012, use early voting far more than white voters.
PITNERBecause it allows more flexibility. You don't have to wait in a long line. You can vote whenever you want.
STOLBERGThey're working. Many of -- they're are working. They have jobs.
REHMSure, of course.
PITNERAnd it's easy to organize. Like, get out to the polls on Sunday was a big thing. Like, churches would send busloads of African-Americans to the polls on Sunday. It's easier to do that. You can organize it. And so it's far more effective. And if you are working long hours and you aren't -- don’t have that much flexibility with your job, this is something that you can really use to make sure that your vote counts. So if you know that -- but that also puts people in a delicate position because if you remove this extension of voting, it makes it harder for you to vote.
PITNERAnd by reducing the days for early voting and reducing the hours that the polling stations open...
PITNEROh, yeah. Sundays was really big in African-American communities, you know, because it's strange to think about it, but churches have become like a political apparatus to a certain extent where, you know, especially if the African-American community, if you assume that most of them are going to vote Democrat, you get your church to say, hey, everyone, go vote for Obama. We'll get the vans, we'll get the buses. We'll take you to the polls. That's going to get a lot of people to go vote if you...
STOLBERGAnd many of these people, they may not have cars, you know. We're talking a lot of times about poor communities. I've spent a lot of time this past year in Baltimore through my coverage of the death of Freddie Gray and also in Philadelphia. These are poor -- often poor or even middle class, working class communities where transportation to the polls is an issue. So as Barrett said, if you cut back Sunday voting, that's a big impact. People can't get there.
REHMAnd to what extent was Sunday voting eliminated, Perry?
BACONYou know, in North Carolina, there was elimination of some early voting, but a court ruling actually struck some of those restrictions down. So it's not -- if you go county by county, you have to look carefully. Some counties do have less early voting. Some have more. So it's not a clear-cut story in North Carolina. I don't have a county by county breakdown because a lot of the county -- it's different by each county in North Carolina. It's not -- it's a very hard story to tell in a very granular way.
REHMSo Tasha, how do you see it? What other restrictions might have been in place to actually suppress African-American voters?
PHILPOTYeah, there's an information barrier as well with Texas and North Carolina having these barriers to voting struck down so close to the election. There's a lot of confusion as to what is needed in order to cast your ballots. So we know, in North Carolina, that a lot of the ideas -- IDs that were required to vote were those that were most commonly used by African-Americans. And so you do have to then go back and reeducate a lot of voters, not just African-Americans, as to what ID is now allowed to be able to vote.
PHILPOTSo there might be just a lag in terms of vote -- getting out the vote in terms of being able to inform those voters as to what is necessary to go out to vote. And that might be what we see in terms of lower turnout right now.
PITNERExactly. Like, if you have had, like, statewide ad campaigns telling people, this is what is your requirement to vote and then, a month, three months before the election, the circuit court says this is unconstitutional, you can't have these restrictions and then you just kind of don't care to fully educate people about the requirements and how you actually have a greater opportunity to vote, that is going to impede people voting because they'll the wrong idea of what they can or can't do.
REHMAll right. And what about choices? Sheryl, you said you spent time in both Baltimore and Philadelphia. What are you hearing...
STOLBERGAnd in Ohio also.
REHMWhat were you hearing from those voters?
STOLBERGSo I think this is where it's really important to talk about the enthusiasm gap and, frankly, we are seeing this on both sides. We're in an election where both candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are historically high negative ratings. People who -- there are a few people who are going to go to the polls and going to be, yeah, I'm going to vote for Clinton or, yeah, I'm going to vote for Trump. I'm really enthusiastic. But in a lot of cases, voters are going to the polls to vote against the other candidate and also we're seeing people stay home.
STOLBERGAnd I am hearing this a lot in the African-American community, especially from young African-Americans, many of whom went to the polls to vote for Obama, some were maybe new voters, maybe they were 18 and their parents and grandparents said, hey, you've got to get to the polls. This is important. You have to vote. But I am hearing so often now from young African-Americans, many of them successful, young rappers who are making good salaries, but who say, this isn't relevant to me. I’m not going to vote. I'm not enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton and I want to improve my community in other ways.
BACONThere was some data -- there was a poll done by the Joint Center For Political and Economic Studies, which studies African-American voting trends. And what they found was interestingly -- I think Sheryl is right. There is a -- first of all, younger blacks are not as enthusiastic about Hillary as older. There's a big age gap there where -- one number I wanted to emphasize, two numbers actually. First of all, they compare are you voting for the candidate or voting for Trump? And they found blacks, more than whites and Latinos, are voting for Hillary.
BACONBlacks are actually the most enthusiastic group in the electorate for Hillary, extremely now.
REHMAll right. Perry Bacon, he's with NBC News. We'll take a short break. When we come back, more on black voter turnout, your calls, comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about black voter turnout. Thus far, in early voting, some indications are that those numbers are down from the prior two elections. Many say because at that time they were voting for Barack Obama. This year, it's different. Here in the studio, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, Barrett Holmes Pitner of The Daily Beast and The Guardian, and Perry Bacon of NBC News. On the line with us, Tasha Philpot. She's professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. She's the author of "Race, Republicans, and the Return of the Party of Lincoln."
REHMAnd, Tasha, I want to read to you an email from Candace in Washington, D.C. She says, talk of the rise of white supremacy, the KKK and violence makes me fear suppression and intimidation in mostly black voting areas. This church was burned in the name of Trump and I'm so afraid this will not be an isolated incident. What's going on in Texas?
PHILPOTYeah. You see quite a rise in amount of vitriol and racial animus -- a lot of Confederate flags, a lot of hostility. I, myself, saw quite a bit of this, have gotten into exchanges with people. I feel the same type of heat that the person writing the email saw.
REHMTell me, can you share with us one of your own, personal experiences?
PHILPOTOh, wow. Yeah. I mean, I've been in public places where people have challenged my right to be there and have shown me the same type of animus that you see on TV. You know, the same type of basket of deplorables, you know, people wearing the t-shirts with the basket of deplorables and then exhibiting the deplorable behavior. And I don't ever recall that type of behavior even in 2008 and 2012.
REHMNow, for you, Sheryl, you've been in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Ohio. What are you hearing?
STOLBERGSo I'd say a couple of things. Certainly in -- I spent a lot of time in the black, working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia for a story that I had published earlier this week -- it was a food pantry there. And I am certainly not hearing that they are afraid to go to the polls. But, that said, I would certainly echo what Tasha said about racial animus. And this election, in a way, as what one woman that I talked to there said, has peeled the blindfold off of America. It's exposed the racial hatred that many African-Americans frankly knew was already there. And we're seeing this directed frankly also at the press.
STOLBERGAfter that story ran, someone tweeted me -- who didn't like the story, didn't like the headline -- and said, nice headline, kike, which, I'm Jewish. And it was accompanied by a photograph of like a hook-nosed Jew. And many -- not to divert the conversation away from blacks to Jews, but there's been this sort of -- a lot of racial and religious...
REHMEthnic and religious.
STOLBERG…anti-Semitism animus exposed. We've seen reporters targeted on Twitter. It's been a feature of this election, an ugly feature of it...
STOLBERG...throughout the race.
BACONI mean, that's what I hear most from black voters is, we told you so. We told you for a long time...
BACON...there's some part of the Republican Party that has a strong amount of nationalism and racism in it. And look at what Donald Trump has done and look how he talks. Black voters feel -- are very upset. It wasn't a given that Hillary would get 90 to 95 percent of the black vote. The fact that Donald Trump was the nominee did almost guarantee that.
STOLBERGThat helped her.
BACONAnd so that's an important factor is that what I most about the election is people are very -- black people are very afraid of the idea that Donald Trump, who went around calling the president...
BACON...not a real citizen, might be the president of the United States. People are very angry about Donald Trump.
PITNERYeah, I think when I talk to, you know, my family and countless other people within the black community, there's this acknowledgement that, in many times throughout American history, black advancement has been -- there's been a strong response from the white community...
BACONLike a backlash.
PITNER...a backlash to try to take it back. Like, so you can't have that joy or that feeling of like truly being accepted, something's going to come back. And there was always a fear when Obama came in that there would be something like this. And like, Trump is the embodiment of this desire to regress to, like, a more oppressive, authoritative, racially-divisive era.
REHMTasha, Perry spoke about an age gap within the African-American community. What are you seeing?
PHILPOTYeah, certainly, if we look at 2008, 2012, you see an uptick in the number of millennials that were casting votes. And we know that, from previous elections, it's incredibly hard to get that age group out to vote in the first place. The millennials -- the uptick that we saw in millennials was really driven by minority millennials. What we might be seeing in 2016 is just a retreat back to normal levels. It's not necessarily a disaffection for Hillary Clinton, but just a regression back to the mean, to the regular levels.
REHMSo from your point of view, Barrett, what do you think?
PITNERWell, it's -- frankly, if you look at 2008 and you're talking about the black vote, it's -- you could look at the African-American vote in that election cycle as a monolith. Like, you are going to vote for Barack Obama. Like, if I go home to visit my parents, there's a photo of the Obamas on their refrigerator. Like, you don't vote against family, you know what I mean? But, like, this time around, it's 2016, Obama is not on the ticket. And so they're -- getting the black vote to show up at that same level requires a lot -- so many different approaches. You have to approach the younger voters with one pitch, the older voters with another pitch. They have different interests. But, like, Obama was family. You're -- we're all going to vote for him.
STOLBERGBut, Diane, if anybody can get black voters to the polls, it's Donald Trump. He's a turnout machine in a lot of ways. People in Philadelphia who I reported on view him as an existential threat. They -- I -- people think that he is going to take -- black people think he's going to take this country back to the days of Jim Crow. When I asked them, the woman that I profiled, what would it be like if he were president? She said, back to slavery days, do as master say. Many of them see imagery that reminds them of their childhoods in the Deep South. There is visceral fear of Trump. So for those who will vote, they will go to the polls and vote for Hillary to keep Trump out.
BACONI think Sheryl's exactly right. That's what this has become for the black community is a -- was a blocking Trump.
STOLBERGDump Trump is what I keep hearing. Dump Trump.
BACONAnd dump Trump, dump Trump. And also I'll be curious to see, as President Obama goes out, he's been making this really strong case that Hillary -- electing Hillary is about electing me a third time in some ways. I'll be curious if that works. That's -- he's going to North Carolina, Florida the next couple days because he knows that's where he's trying to drive up votes. I'll be curious. We only have early-vote data, so we could -- the actual vote on Tuesday could be different. So it's one thing we should be careful to not say black vote is down until we actually have all the results. That's what...
STOLBERGIt ain't over till it's over.
BACON...and it's early. I think it's useful to think about.
PITNERAnd I agree with everything they just said. But one thing I'd like to add is for younger black voters, they don't have a memory of Jim Crow or the oppression. Like, I know for a fact, like, my parents' generation, like, they wanted to use the advancements from the civil rights era and their economic and educational opportunities to make it so that I didn't have to grow up with the memory of the more difficult times. And if you don't have this, like, difficult history firmly entrenched in your thinking, you won't, in this traumatic time, automatically think back to that. And so...
STOLBERGAnd that's why older African-Americans are begging their children and grandchildren, get to the polls. You've got to get to the polls.
REHMYou know, Sheryl, it reminds me of the fact that younger women, even white women, don't recognize...
REHM...the advances that the women's movement...
REHMAnd this is reflecting that same kind of thinking.
STOLBERGYeah. And we're also seeing that middle-aged African-Americans are telling me they were disenchanted with Hillary over her crime policies, over Bill Clinton's crime policies in the 1990s. So they have a different memory and a different life experience than the elders and the millennials.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Fort Wayne, Ind. Rachel, you're on the air.
RACHELHello. I was growing up, homeschooled in the Midwest. And as a white woman, I grew up with many levels of white privilege. When I married my husband, who is black, and we had children, I learned firsthand how truly divided our society is on a very basic level. And after the election of Barack Obama -- where I literally cried to see that, it was beautiful to me -- and then being disillusioned by his ineffectual policies, we don't want to see, like she said, the crime policies of Bill and Hillary from the '90s reoccurring. And as much as it's fear Trump, fear Trump, by way of Hillary, who is the super-predator politician, we feel like she does not represent our interests.
RACHELThe conversations I have with my husband are that both the parties are ineffectual and it is time for Jill Stein to be the actual president where she can address these with her vice president, Ajamu Baraka, who is black and does talk about the imperialist white supremacy in our society that we...
REHMAll right. Barrett, do you want to comment?
PITNERYeah. I'd say, when you -- she made a good point about how she was -- she cried when Barack Obama was elected because she was so, you know, happy that he was it. And then she saw, when he became president, how difficult it is to govern. How you have to work with all these different factions and they can impede what you ideally want to do. Like, someone like Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, who's not been in the government at this level, they can -- all you can know them about is their ideals and what they would want to do. But Obama and Hillary Clinton have this unfortunate thing where they have a track record of working in government and not being able to be the idyllic person that we envision them to be.
PITNERI think one thing that we need to talk about -- and she also made a great point how, when she grew up, she had no idea of the levels of white privilege that she had. And then she was educated and became more culturally aware via marrying an African-American. If we're talking about Hillary Clinton in the '90s, like, the racial animosity in the 1990s compared to today was so much different. And if we -- you have to acknowledge that, like, white Americans, we need to give them the opportunity to evolve and become more racially aware. And if we're talking about someone's perspectives from two decades ago, you should infer that maybe they've learned more.
PITNERLike even Obama, this time, when he -- as president, he had one position regarding gay marriage when he came in. He met more gay couples, more gay friends, and changed his position. Like this is a thing that we have to acknowledge, everyone in America is going to have to do racially. And you can't judge someone entirely based upon, you know, working with a really staunch Republican.
STOLBERGYeah. I think it's also become clear to me that, after Obama was elected, that frankly by his very presence, he brought out racial animus in our society. I was stunned, as a new White House reporter, to receive emails to my stories saying the most vulgar, racist things about Barack Obama, the president of the United States. When I first started writing about him, he was first in office, someone sent me an email that said, you know, send that Mississippi porch monkey back to Mississippi. I was shocked, as a white woman, that these sentiments existed out in our country and that someone would say this about the president of the United States. So...
REHMWell, and don't forget, the leader of the Republican Party, right at the start of Barack Obama's leadership and presidency said, he is not going to accomplish anything as far as we're concerned. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's see, here's a tweet that says, a lot of blacks know that Hillary Clinton referred to young, black males as super predators. They are completely aware. Perry Bacon.
BACONI think people are aware of that. I do think one of the big stories of this campaign, in fact, has been -- aside from the candidates -- has been, it had -- we had the purpose in Ferguson and we had the Black Lives Matter movement start essentially right before the campaign. And what this meant is, on Hillary Clinton's side, is she's basically moved a lot toward the black view of various issues. She's said I -- she apologized to (word?) She's called for criminal justice reform. She's taken a lot -- she's talked about the movement and how it's important. I think that she has moved left on some racial justice issues, where she wasn't in a place in the 1990s. So I think that's caused her to shift.
BACONAnd then, on the other hand, Donald Trump has run as almost a candidate opposed to that movement. He's been Mr. The Police Should Do More. The police -- we need more police officers. Black communities are falling apart. The inner city is terrible. You've seen both candidates kind of -- I think the Black Lives movement has had a big impact on the campaign and really shaped how both candidates talk about racial issues.
STOLBERGBut the question is, will those voters who remember the days of this quote "super predator" quote, accept that Hillary Clinton has evolved on that issue. Do they believe it and will they go to the polls for her?
PITNERYeah. I think, as a society, we have to look at people and give them the opportunity to evolve, especially when it comes to issues regarding race. Like, we have not ever been good at race relations in America. Our idea is to get better, to make people more aware and then see if they have made progress. Like, if you look at Hillary Clinton back then, she was the first lady. She, like, there was never a first lady that was even having this significant of a role on any kind of issues. Like, she's been quite progressive and out there and doing things that haven't been done before. And we need to take the full context of the '90s and how the '80s war on drugs and everything like that bled into everything that was happening back then.
REHMTasha, did you want to talk about blacks and certain feelings toward Hillary Clinton?
PHILPOTYou know, I -- just that I agree. I think that there is going to be a certain segment that just won't forget the comment about super predators and will remember things like reforming welfare as we know it and the crime bill and the Clinton's administration in terms of what they did with respect to policy that was to the detriment of the black community and hold it against Clinton. And not necessarily vote against her but certainly won't go to the polls.
REHMIs that what you think, Perry?
BACONIt is not. And obviously it's not what I think. I don't think people who are studying the issues at this level tend to be people who vote. And my suspicion is people who are, you know, I'm very dubious of the notion, actually, that people who are studying, like what happened in 1996, are going to be, let me stay home and make sure to help Donald Trump win. I'm skeptical of that.
STOLBERGNo, I'm hearing from some -- not a lot, but some...
BACONSo, okay, not a lot. So we're...
STOLBERG...who will say -- not a lot -- who say, I'll vote in down-ballot races. I can't vote for her. One of the women that I quoted in my story from Philadelphia about the Food Pantry, which really was a story about this deep racial divide and how white working-class voters view this election one way and black working-class view it another way. She said, she would stay home, vote in down-ballot races only.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg, national correspondent for The New York Times. Short break here. And when we come back, we'll turn, again, to your calls, your emails, your tweets. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about voting and early voting, what's happened so far in the black community and to what extent blacks will come out and vote, either for Hillary Clinton, which is the assumption, that she -- that they are going to vote for a Democrat, but here's an email from Dan in Sacramento, California. He says, I believe the day African American voters feel they have a true advocate in the White House and Congress, they will register and vote like there's no tomorrow.
REHMThat's why we turned out in such large numbers for Obama. Not only are we not convinced Clinton will be an advocate for us to the degree Obama was, rumors of voter suppression backed up with restrictions in voting methods that encourage African American voting makes us feel like it's the 1960s all over again. Barrett.
PITNERWell, I -- that sentiment is totally valid. Like, right now, the issue between the Democrats is trying to get voter turnout to Obama levels, to get people as enthused for Hillary as they were for Obama. But the Republican side, it's all about voter suppression. Like it's trying to -- it's ways to make it so that African Americans don't vote at Obama levels, because that swung it in his favor in Ohio and Florida and all these vital swing states. And that's reminiscent of the previous eras where America was focused on preventing African Americans from having like the full access to the franchise of democracy.
REHMAnd Perry, here's an email from Jack in St. Louis, Missouri. The accusation has been made that Democrats have taken the African American vote for granted. And not lived up to expectations once elected. Has this ever been adequately addressed and if so, how is it either dismissed or explained?
BACONIt's an interesting question, because I guess one part of it is that the political scientists will say right now, blacks do not have a lot of political power, in part because if one party is in some ways trying to take away your civil rights, you only have one party to vote for. So, you're therefore automatically weakened in the way your ability to influence politics. So, in some ways, the Democratic Party can't assume your votes are going to be for them. I think that is broadly true, that it's hard for blacks to feel like -- to appeal to both parties.
BACONOnly one party feels like it's interested in them. Right, and this is what we have now. I would say that it's hard to say right now, with Barack Obama as the president, particularly, that black interests are taken for granted. I mean, he's been, heavily, like Obamacare, is something, for instance, that has a lot of -- African Americans have disproportionately have been -- Obamacare. He's very involved in the police, in trying to reduce some of the police shootings.
BACONSo I think it's hard to say, and Hillary Clinton is pledging to do a lot of the things Barack Obama has done on racial issues. So, it's hard to say black issues are being ignored, but it would be useful and helpful if both parties were actually competing for the black vote in a real way. And that's not happening right now.
STOLBERGI'd like to introduce sort of a little bit different idea into the conversation, which is that I've interviewed a lot of working class whites and blacks. And I think that we are reliving the civil rights era in this country. And we are doing so, I suspect, because working class people, on both ends of the spectrum, are really, deeply in pain. And we're having this incredible clash in which our political leaders have not addressed that. You know, they haven't addressed these feelings of disenfranchisement on the part of the white working class.
STOLBERGAnd many -- a lot of pain on the part of the black working class. Struggling to get ahead. Data show that black working class people are actually worse off than their white working class counterparts. So until we come together and find some kind of leader, as a country, who can bring us together, I'm fearing that we are, we are stuck in this awfully racially divisive situation.
REHMBut one leader cannot do it without the Congress.
STOLBERGRight. They have to do -- exactly. The both parties have to commit to coming together.
PITNERI think one thing we've overlooked is that this racially divisive situation that we're in right now has been like the American situation. This is -- like, this is probably the best time to be a black person ever in America and we're talking about how difficult this racial situation is. And I think, frankly, when we -- everyone that wants to reference the 1960s, we need to talk about reconstruction in the 1860s and 1870s. How, like, America only had the tolerance for 14 years to try to equally expand like the democracy and the rights to vote -- voting rights to African Americans. For 14 years, and then we've just completely reversed it.
STOLBERGSo, maybe we need this moment to make further progress.
REHMI hope so. Let's go to Sheila in San Antonio, Texas. Hi there.
SHEILAWell, hello there. This is my first time on the air. This conversation is very helpful to me, because I wasn't going to vote. Well, I can't say I wasn't going to vote. I was going back and forth, thinking it wasn't important. I think it's important because of the behavior of Donald Trump. Because I definitely don't want someone in there who has a mouth, setting this type of example for our future -- our future kids. I'm not looking at it one way or another as far as race is concerned.
SHEILABut I am taking into consideration of his behavior. And I said to myself, he has, the Republicans had eight years to prep somebody with better behavior than this. But then I said to myself, well, you (unintelligible) . I have a son who is African American, who goes to Arizona State University. And he graduates this May, and he sent me some footage of Hillary was at his school. And she was preaching, you know, like she does, and he was excited about it. And he's going to vote for Hillary, and I'm going to vote for Hillary.
SHEILAI don't think we're going -- no, I know for a fact we're not gonna just vote for Hillary because she's not prejudice and Trump is. I think we know, we all, well, we all know what we hear and what we see Trump...
REHMExactly. Perry, what do you think?
BACONI think -- I want to come back to something Sheryl said, too. But yeah, I think, one thing I wanted to mention the election is I feel like that race is the divided line in this election in a way that we haven't seen. In a lot of elections, the economy or other policies are, but I feel like if you look at the proposals that people like Donald Trump have -- banning Muslims, limiting immigration, law and order. You know, making sure, you know, focusing on the inner city and how bad the inner city is.
BACONI do think, like, in this election in particularly, like the racial divide is the election in a way that it has not been for a long time. And I think, there was a great skit on SNL, actually, it was called black jeopardy. And it got at the point that Sheryl's making, which is the black working class and the white working class actually have a lot in common, in terms of jobs leaving, manufacturing jobs leaving. Economic disenfranchisement. But they see racial issues so differently that it's hard to see them coming together.
BACONI mean, the, if you look at like views on Black Lives Matter, white working class people say the police treat everyone equally. And then, black people, obviously, do not feel that way. And if you, if you -- and the gap on how people, particularly white working class and black working class people see racial issues means any kind of unity's really going to be hard to accomplish. The data suggests that programs like Obamacare -- white working class people view programs that give minorities stuff as bad.
BACONAnd things that -- like, so basically, white working class people like Medicare, Social Security, because that gives to people who are deserving. They don't like Medicaid for people who are not deserving. And so, until you can address that sort of racial gap, it's hard to see any unity, even if the problems are the same.
REHMLet's go to Durham, North Carolina. Tyrone, you're on the air.
TYRONEGood morning. How are you doing?
TYRONEYes, this is my first time being on the show. I'm African American. I'm a veteran, a Gulf War veteran. And here in North Carolina, I caught you all with the segment you were talking about the IDs and people not being educated about the IDs. Well, the point in case in North Carolina is during the primaries, they showed you all the IDs that would be acceptable for the elections. And then they took it to the courts and the courts reversed it, but you didn't find out about it until you actually got to the polls.
PITNERThat's what she was saying earlier.
TYRONEAnd you saw the sign that said, no voter -- no ID required to vote. So, ya'll hit it right on the head as far as suppressing the vote here in North Carolina. And if you're not a person that listens to shows like this or look at the news, then you wouldn't know these things. And the other point being the same there reporter hit it on the head as far as the attitudes toward the President. And being African American, if we have seen this attitude of the American people and the respect that they have toward him.
TYRONEComing into this election, it really didn't make a difference for a lot of people. And a whole lot of people are disenfranchised based on the way that he was treated for these two terms.
REHMThat's interesting, Tyrone. Let me ask you a question.
REHMHave you, have you already voted?
TYRONEI've already voted.
REHMMay I ask for whom you voted?
TYRONEWell, Democrat. I voted for Hillary and historically, I have voted along the Democratic ticket.
REHMAll right. And Barrett, what do you think of his comments?
PITNERIt's -- he sees it what's -- how it is on the ground. Like, you know, it's true. All these states have came up with ways to disenfranchise African Americans. And then when it was proven that that was unconstitutional, unfair, you couldn't do it, they were like, okay, we'll fix it. And then, it's like, oh, I'll fix it tomorrow. I'll fix it tomorrow. And they just kind of like use ignorance and laziness as an excuse for disenfranchising people. And that's just completely unacceptable.
STOLBERGI thought he made a real important point too, Diane, very quickly, about that if you're not paying attention or watching the shows. Many people are working. They're not like us here in Washington, paying attention to every little, teeny thing that happens.
REHMExactly. I agree. To Elena in Athens, Georgia. You're on the air.
ELENAGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
ELENAI think the discussion is mainly on how to get the black community to vote, but you don't give them enough credit for knowing that nothing, really, has changed. In 2008, they voted for hope and change. Hope has dwindled, change didn't happen. The communities still lack healthcare and Obamacare is very expensive. Affordable care is really not affordable.
REHMBut is that, Elena, may I ask, is that really a reason not to vote?
ELENAI think so. There's no excitement for a candidate that really called young men super predators. That there really is no record what was done for the black community. President Obama, who I voted for twice, was very different than Mrs. Clinton.
PITNERYeah, so I think you encounter this a lot, where people have this false expectation, false narrative of how quickly America makes changes, how fast we're going to like revamp our entire healthcare system. And overcome these racial disparities that have been the bedrock of our country from the very beginning. Like, Obama's not going to solve all the problems in the black community in eight years. Like, there is statistics out there saying that it will take 200 years for African Americans to have like equal like savings amounts to white Americans.
PITNERAnd that's not even including -- and then you talk about where African Americans are live. Like, if you go to Georgia, and it's funny, she says Athens, they actually have train tracks where like, on one side of the tracks, white people live. On the other side of the tracks, black people live. And that's been the structure in Georgia for a good hundred years. And that's just how it's always been. Like it's going to take more than eight years to make these kinds of changes.
REHMWhat do you think, Tasha?
PHILPOTYeah, absolutely. I mean, we have a system of government that's built purposely to make sure that big change doesn't happen quickly. We have a system of checks and balances to ensure that no one branch of government can make sweeping changes. And then you add in the fact that when Obama took office, you had a Republican congress vow to not allow him to do anything at all. So that it's not surprising that big sweeping changes weren't made over the last eight years.
REHMAnd not surprising that people are disappointed. And you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. All right, we'll take a caller in Washington, D.C. William, you're on the air.
WILLIAMI just want to say, I love your show. I listen to you every day.
WILLIAMBut just to make it very simple, yes, people are -- African Americans, I'm African American, people are disenfranchised. They're not happy. They don't feel change has happened. So what's the point? I have a lot of friends that, you know, just see, you know, Hillary and Donald Trump as two different sides of the same coin. The political elite, and if Congress made it so hard for Obama to...
REHMDo anything. He -- Congress made it so hard for Obama to do absolutely anything.
WILLIAMExactly. So, you know, that's pretty much it. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Barrett.
PITNERYeah, just real quick, I think people like to ignore or forget this idea that America, for as long as we can remember, the idea of disenfranchising African Americans has been an integral part of our democratic structure. Like, so African Americans, if you emotionally disenfranchise, you think that your vote doesn't matter or whatever. You're playing into the system that has been rigged against you for the beginning. You have to stay engaged to keep your franchise. Trump is showing how the opportunities could go away.
STOLBERGAlso, very important point, we were in terrible dire straits economically, as a country, when Obama took office. So, we have been experienced major economic dislocation with jobs moving overseas and all of that that also plays into these feelings.
REHMAll right. One last caller from Valdosta, Georgia. Brian, you're on the air.
BRIANYeah, hi. I know, not much time left. Real quick question. My concern is this transportation strike in Pennsylvania. Is there any chance that that could have such an effect that it could flip Pennsylvania for Trump?
STOLBERGI don't know the answer to that, but I am hearing also a lot of concern about this transportation strike in Pennsylvania. And how will people who use buses get to the polls? Pennsylvania, we know now from the polls, is -- Clinton is slightly ahead. Perry may be better on the polls than I am, but the latest polls show her slightly ahead. There's still five days to go, so we'll see.
REHMWho is out there in your mind Perry, who is best able to get out the African American vote other than President Obama himself?
BACONDoes Michelle Obama count? I think so.
REHMOh, you bet she does.
BACONOkay, so I think she's gonna be -- I don't know where she's headed, but she's had very -- they made her, they made sure she went to North Carolina on one of the days when early voting was very big and opening in one of the counties.
REHMShe is so dynamic.
BACONShe's got a really big enthusiasm. I know Hillary's going to Philadelphia on Saturday, so that tells you -- that's a big, Hillary's going to Philadelphia.
STOLBERGWhat about Kanye?
BACONAnd maybe should go too. I don't know where Beyonce is. That would probably help. Maybe Venus Williams. But I actually think -- I actually think this is less of a -- like I said, I actually think when we get down to it, the polls are showing 90 percent of African Americans are going to vote for Hillary and that the numbers are going to be down maybe one or two points. That's significant, but I actually don't think she -- this is , her biggest problem is going to be that white men don't like her, not that black people are not voting for her in high enough numbers.
PITNERYeah, I think the biggest issue for African American voters is to reexamine why your -- why you vote. Like, right now, we have an American narrative where you can take your vote for granted. Like, white Americans, they're like, if I'm not in the mood, I can't vote, I won't vote, and it really won't harm your life that severely. But African Americans have never been in that situation. Like, you have to stay engaged. Obama became President because we voted at unprecedented levels which was actually just equivalent to what whites have always voted. Like, we can't, as a people in America, afford to actively take away our own franchise.
REHMBarrett Holmes Pitner, he's a columnist for The Daily Beast and The Guardian. Tasha Philpot is Professor of Government, University of Texas at Austin. Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times. Perry Bacon of NBC News. What a fascinating discussion. I hope that it encourages people to think hard about what their vote means and that it does count. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Diane talks with Rick Hasen, a law professor and expert on election administration. His new book is "Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy."
Diane talks to McKay Coppins of The Atlantic about President Trump’s use of disinformation as the 2020 presidential campaign gets underway.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, talks about how the country is preparing.