Recent national polls show Tom Steyer is gaining traction with Democratic voters. However, the most compelling poll numbers are coming out of barbershops and beauty salons in communities of color where enthusiasm for the
candidate is beginning to mount.
To illustrate, a December 23 YouGov poll showed former Vice President Joe Biden remains the front-runner for
the Democratic nomination with 54% support among black voters and 40% overall among Democrats. The same poll also showed Presidential candidate Tom Steyer with 7% support among South Carolina Democratic voters overall and 10% support among black Democrats in the state. This placed Steyer in fifth place overall and third place among the key Democratic electorate. More recently, a January poll from Fox News showed Steyer up to 15% support from likely voters in the state.
While Biden maintains his position as a top candidate, the polls are clearly showing that many voters haven’t yet made up their minds and that there are serious conversations taking place. Name recognition is only half the battle. Consistent messaging and policy proposals that resonate with the needs of voters, particularly those in black communities, continue to be of importance.
Steyer seemed to have understood this from the outset and has made investing in black-owned media a point of pride for his campaign. As his surge in recent polls indicates, it’s an investment that is paying off and his black media buy in South Carolina has black voters paying attention.
To emphasize that point, Steyer’s campaign issued a statement recognizing the value of black-owned media and their legacy of shaping politics in black communities saying, “Black newspapers have played an integral role in the development of black culture and have told a more authentic story of the contributions of Black America in society. The truth of the matter is that without black media, African-Americans would have been voiceless during a time when the mainstream press treated blacks like they were invisible. The first black publication, Freedom’s Journal, denounced slavery, advocated for civil rights, and spoke out against voter suppression, leaving an indelible mark on our country’s history. Still today, the black press provides a valuable service to African-Americans who continue to be underserved. As president, I will be committed to tackling the issues that disproportionately impact black Americans while addressing the issues that divide us.”
Johnnie Cordero, Chair of the Democratic Black Caucus of South Carolina applauds Steyer’s commitment to make a genuine effort to reach black voters saying, “It is refreshing and encouraging to read Steyer’s recent statement regarding the black press that acknowledges the importance of the black media to our continuing struggle for fundamental fairness. Campaigns would be wise to recognize the importance of black media and act accordingly.”
Cordero goes on to note that, with primaries rapidly approaching, other campaigns have yet to put forth a similar effort to reach black voters.
“I’ll give you that Steyer may have come into this campaign with his own war chest but he made a decision early on to make a long-term investment in minority communities not just by investing in minority media but by listening to overlooked voters and putting forth policies that reflect feedback from those communities. At this point, primaries are just weeks away and many campaigns still haven’t done much in terms of investing real time and resources in minority communities and black media. Why? The uncomfortable truth is it’s because ignoring black voters to the last possible minute is a real strategy for many of the campaigns and it has been a strategy for the Democratic Party as a whole for decades. It’s no secret that many democratic strategists have long believed that you don’t invest in black media until the last days of an election. And, even then, you only give them whatever’s left after you’ve spent the bulk of your advertising dollars with white-owned media,” he said.
Campaigns may think that continuing to utilize this strategy is sufficiently distributing their message, but in actuality, it’s a mistake. Their lack of investment in black-owned media shows a pointed disinterest in taking meaningful steps to reach voters in diverse communities. Historically, Democratic candidates have been able to ignore black media outlets with no blowback but today that decision is woefully inadequate and flat-out insulting if their intention is to actually reach black voters and persuade them to support a candidate. And to be quite frank, black voters are taking note and recognizing that the danger of electing a candidate that operates under this pretense lies in the fact that, if elected, they will treat issues that impact the black community in much the same way and wait until the last possible minute to deal with them if they take the time to address them at all.”
Harry Hunter, President of the 2020 Black Media Coalition notes that investments in black media should be a point of pride for all candidates saying, “Campaigns have no problem announcing the amount of money they spend with white-owned media outlets. In fact, it is seen as a point of pride. However, when they’re asked to spend money with black media outlets, they groan and complain and offer pennies on the dollar. Steyer’s decision to treat black media outlets the same as white media outlets has nothing to do with the amount of money he has, but everything to do with the amount of character he has. The decision to treat black media fairly and to value their work and contributions to their communities is something that black voters are paying attention to. I believe that’s why you see him surging in South Carolina and Nevada, both of which have larger numbers of voters of color than Iowa and New Hampshire.”
South Carolina State Representative Jerry N. Govan, Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of South Carolina, serves as an advisor to Steyer’s South Carolina operation and says he isn’t surprised about the Steyer’s decision to treat black media fairly, observing that Steyer’s past is an indication of who he is.
“He’s been on the right side of justice for a long time,” Govan said. “The media buy is just further evidence that he has the conviction of character to stand behind his word and follow through with action. As an advisor, I’ve counseled Steyer on the immense value of building relationships with the black community. Trust must be earned. Black folk are tired of empty promises from politicians who only care about black votes but don’t care enough to invest in black people and black businesses to try to earn their vote in the same manner in which they would white voters. On February 29, 2020, we have an opportunity to elect someone as the democratic nominee who is genuine in wanting to serve everyone in this country and has proven that he’s got the chops to stand up and do what’s right and make a commitment to all voters.”
Fourth-quarter fundraising numbers show that Senator Sanders raised $34.5 million, Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised $24.7 million, Vice President Joe Biden raised $22.7 million, Andrew Yang raised $16.5 million, and Senator Amy Klobuchar raised $11.4 million. To date, Biden, Buttigieg, Warren, and relative newcomer to the race, Deval Patrick have made commitments to launch campaign ads in most of the state’s black-owned media outlets within the coming days.
“Knowing how much weight South Carolina’s black voters have in determining the nomination and as close as we are to the primary, I can tell you that folks are really starting to pay attention to what candidates do just as much are they’re listening to what candidates say,” says Harry Hunter.