How 2018 Became the ‘Year of the Black Progressive’

It’s too soon to award the moniker, but 2018 may well be remembered as the political “Year of the Black Progressive,” much as 1992 was the “Year of the Woman.”

Black women are taking office as mayors in major cities such as San Francisco and New Orleans. Record-breaking numbers of black candidates are running for office at the state level. No fewer than three black candidates are being seriously discussed as presidential nominees. And with gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Andrew Gillum in Florida and congressional candidate Ayanna Pressley in Boston, among others, Democrats have nominated young, black, progressives where they typically would nominate white moderates.

Ayanna Pressley

Ayanna Pressley

How is this happening, and why now? Simply put: White Democrats are becoming more liberal, and black candidates are running savvy, progressive campaigns that win the support of white Democrats while building a coalition with more pragmatic black voters.

Taken together with the results of the 2016 presidential primaries—in which Bernie Sanders managed to win half of black voters younger than 30, and nearly a third overall—some could interpret this rising wave of black candidates as a sign that the notoriously pragmatic black electorate is moving leftward politically. But a deeper look at the numbers and the candidates themselves suggests that something else is at play.

According to the Pew Research Center, since 2000, the portion of Democrats who identify as liberal has increased by 70 percent. But those gains came almost exclusively from white Democrats, 55 percent of whom identified as liberal in 2017, up from 28 percent in 2000. Over that same time span, the percentage of liberal black Democrats increased only marginally, growing from 25 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2017, with a slight drop-off following the election of Donald Trump.

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