A recent Philadelphia Tribune analysis reveals that a majority of key gubernatorial and U.S. Senate election battles, including races with tightened “neck-on-neck” polling margins, are in states with the largest Black and Brown population shares.
With an overall “non-White” electorate — combined African American, Latinx, Asian and Native American — experiencing 5 percentage point growth since 2008, voters “of color” (primarily Black and Brown voters) will be particularly decisive by Tuesday.
And if Black and Brown turnout is higher than in previous Congressional midterm (otherwise known as “off-cycle”) races, it could translate into needed gains for Democrats to regain a majority in the U.S. House while capturing a majority of gubernatorial seats for the first time in nearly a decade. Currently, Republicans have 236 seats to Democrats’ 193 seats in the House and they dominate 33 governors’ mansions.
Recent polls indicate an overwhelming numbers of Black and Brown voters are claiming support for Democratic candidates in Congressional midterms. An NPR/PBS News/Marist poll showed 86 percent of Black voters supporting Democrats; just under 60 percent of Latino voters support Democratic candidates. The most recent YouGov poll shows 80 percent Black support for Democratic Party candidates and 47 percent among Latino voters.
Most observers nationally consider Pennsylvania a bellwether for state and federal contests in 2018. And key races here include re-election bids from Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Senator Bob Casey, both Democrats, and Congressional races.
“The Democrats are likely to pick up somewhere between 3 and 5 seats in Pennsylvania, and they’ll definitely need Black and Brown voters if they want to get there,” Franklin & Marshall College public affairs professor and polling director G. Terry Madonna told the Tribune during a WURD broadcast. “That’s especially crucial in the state’s urban areas” as many of these races will be decided by the vast urban versus rural divide that’s defined the Commonwealth’s political make-up and tensions for generations.
“Turnout depends upon whether people are just talking or will actually go to the polls,” says Marilyn Kai Jewett, a veteran political consultant of numerous city, state and judicial campaigns. She’s cautious about what that will look like in Philadelphia proper. “Montgomery County has been electing more Democrats in the past few elections and I’m sure that will continue. While I’m confident that voters in the high-voting wards in Philly’s West and Northwest communities will come out in great numbers, I’m not so sure about other parts of the city.”
Nationally, there are 28 gubernatorial races this year, and 11 are considered “toss ups,” according to Real Clear Politics averages. Four out of those 11 (36 percent) are in states where Black population share is 13 percent or more, including Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, and Ohio. States such as Florida and Georgia are in heated 1 or 2 percentage point margin races where each state could see its first Black governor in Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams, respectively.
In Senate races considered “toss ups,” according to the RealClearPolitics averages, 4 out of 6 (or 67 percent of those races), are states where the Black population share is 11 percent or more. Out of the five states where Democrats, as mostly incumbents, hang on in the “likely” column by a thread, two — Michigan and New Jersey — are places where Black population shares exceed 15 percent, and contain major urban, and some metropolitan suburban areas, with high concentrations of Black, Brown and Asian residents.
There are currently 36 total “toss-up” races in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to RealClearPolitics, as analysts are projecting enough Republican losses to return control back to Democrats. But, many of these more localized races will need non-White voter turnout, especially, to flip seats. Three out of those three dozen House seats are in Pennsylvania, including a volatile race in suburban Philadelphia’s PA-1 where incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is fighting off a tough challenge from Democrat Scott Wallace. It’s a race where Black residents are 37 percent of the district’s population, a perceived built-in electoral advantage for Democrats that could spell trouble for Fitzpatrick.
“This all boils down to turnout, nothing more and nothing less,” National Action Network‘s Rev. Al Sharpton told the Tribune. “This is a life and death election for Black folks. We can’t have a situation where way more of us turned out to see ‘Black Panther’ than turned out to vote.”
And current projections suggest overall national turnout could be high. University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald expressed confidence in high turnout while perusing early vote returns and mail-in ballots. “We’re going to go much higher than 2014,” said McDonald by last week’s end. “We’ll pass 30 million early votes tomorrow and the high-volume mail ballot states still have many outstanding votes. Maybe we wind up around 35 million by Election Day? That number will not include millions of late-arriving ballots.”
Nearly two dozen states had surpassed 2014 midterm early voting totals by week’s end. In Pennsylvania, where there is no early voting, but the absentee ballot request deadline was last Tuesday, early returns show the Department of State has received more than 96,000 ballots. More than 200,000 absentee ballot requests were made, with Democrats edging Republicans by a margin of 15,000 votes.
While it is difficult to ascertain the volume of Black voter turnout from early turnout, 48 percent of the states that had surpassed 2014 early voting totals and their total “off-cycle” vote are states that are in the top 20 states with the largest Black population shares. Those states include Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Texas. By Friday, Texas early voting had already surpassed its 2014 total — early and Election Day votes included. Not only do these states feature hard fought and very caustic gubernatorial, House and Senate races, but they also house populations where Black residents are more than 13 percent of the total statewide population.
“Voters are turning out more like it’s a presidential election than a midterm,” said Economist data journalist G. Elliott Morris on Twitter Friday morning. “Democrats are the ones who are voting early And unafilliated voters are breaking to the Democrats about 60 percent to 25 percent.”
Still, in the most recent Franklin & Marshall poll that dropped last Thursday, nearly 30 percent of “non-white” respondents claim they “do not know” who they’re voting for in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race, compared to 13 percent of white residents. In the gubernatorial race, 15 percent claim they’re undecided compared to just 9 percent of white residents.
“At this stage, most who are saying they are undecided is usually a sign they’re not voting,” Madonna said.