If you’ve Googled the name Stacey Abrams in recent weeks, chances are the results have been replete with headlines asking questions about the Democratic gubernatorial nominee’s ability to win over Black voters in Georgia. The trend continued Tuesday as the Washington Post asked in its headline whether “Black voter turnout” is one of Abrams’ “challenges.”
At face value, though, and considering not-so-distant history, questioning Abrams’ support among Black voters comes across as straddling the line between disingenuous and flat-out disrespectful.
Most reports about Abrams and Black voters harken back to her gubernatorial race in 2018 when she captured up to 94% of the ballots cast by the coveted demographic. According to the Post, that number has dropped to 83% ahead of the election next month.
But much of that type of criticism has come in Abrams’ own backyard as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has repeatedly broached the topic in its campaign coverage. Just last month, one article focused on Abrams’ “surprising problem with Black voters.” Another from July reported that Abrams was “underperforming with Black voters.”
It hasn’t helped that Killer Mike — an influential local pundit who is Black — recently credited Gov. Brian Kemp, with running “an effective campaign” in a comment that implied his opponent Abrams was not.
But after playing an undeniably crucial role in securing the election of Joe Biden — an effort largely credited to Black voters galvanized by Abrams — it’s unclear why there is so much doubt around the topic just two years later.
What about 2020?
Lest we forget when Abrams was lavished with praise for the outsized role that she and her Fair Fight organization played in not just registering voters — particularly Black voters — but also spurring them to record turnout in the 2020 presidential election as well as the 2021 Georgia Senate runoff race that helped elect the state’s first Black Senator in Rev. Raphael Warnock.
Abrams was credited for several counties in Georgia that are traditionally Democratic strongholds handing Biden the state’s 16 electoral college votes to push him past the threshold of 270 electoral college votes and beat Donald Trump in 2020. As such, Abrams’ hard work was recognized for making Georgia — traditionally a so-called red state expected to be won by Republican candidates — a battleground swing state.
In the months leading up to that race, Abrams was able to redirect the momentum she gained with her first gubernatorial campaign by starting the Fair Fight organization after that election was effectively robbed from her by Kemp, who was accused of suppressing votes from Black communities in order to win the race.
Considering her political trajectory, which is still on the rise, doubting Abrams’ ability to turnout the Black vote in her favor may prove to be foolhardy at best.
Polling is flawed
It can’t be ignored that while polling is tabulated using a scientific methodology, its results are not the product of an exact science. In other words, polling is and has always been flawed as it never takes into account what will happen on Election Day and instead formulates predictions based on responses from those surveyed who very well could change their minds once they’re in the voting booth. The 2016 presidential election is a prime example of that truth, as Hillary Clinton was widely — and incorrectly — forecast to beat Trump.
The trend is continuing with this election cycle, according to analysis by the New York Times that showed “warning signs” of incorrect polling once again that likely include underestimating certain candidates for any number of reasons. With Abrams, it would appear that her ability to galvanize Black voters is being woefully underestimated based on her past performances as both a candidate and an organizer.
It is in that context that a poll released last week with a 4.3% margin of error found Abrams was trailing Kemp by 5 percentage points.
Kemp is no longer overseeing his own election unlike in 2018
The fact that Kemp is no longer Georgia’s secretary of state — an elected position that oversees all elections in the state — is a huge factor in Abrams’ second campaign against the man who beat her to become governor in 2018. But it was how Kemp beat Abrams that cannot be forgotten, as the Republican faced credible claims of voter suppression by way of everything from rigging voting machines in Black polling places to voter roll purges, holds placed on voter registration applications, polling site changes and closings and more.
It got so mad that Democrats had to launch an investigation into Kemp’s tactics which critics said were reminiscent of Jim Crow.
Kemp found himself in the middle of a firestorm before Election Day after the Associated Press reported his office had placed more than 53,000 voter registration applications on hold—about 70% of them from African Americans. He also faced multiple lawsuits, including one from a group of voting rights organizations accusing him of using a racially-biased method to purge the names of about 700,000 voters from the rolls.
Additionally, voters in predominantly African American urban districts encountered lots of problems at the polls on Election Day—from faulty electronic machines that switched votes from Abrams to Kemp to excessively long lines because of missing power cords for voting machines.
The working logic is that Kemp, while still the governor, does not maintain the same levels of power over elections that he commanded four years ago. Assuming that is true, those same Black voters whose ballots were suppressed or denied back then will likely support Abrams’ candidacy this time around, casting ballots that in theory should push her past the threshold she fell short of in 2018.
Abrams is confident
Having played vital roles in a national election and multiple state and local elections since her loss in 2018, Abrams’ second time around as a gubernatorial candidate has her exuding a knowing, more informed confidence than her previous campaign. Of course, Abrams was confident in 2018, but beyond that, she has expressed zero doubts about her support among Black voters.
During an interview with Fox News this past weekend, Abrams said she doesn’t take any voting group for granted. However, she called the reports about Black voters a “manufactured crisis” that runs counter to her experience on the campaign trail.
“I think the manufactured crisis [is] designed to suppress turnout … I’ve done more than 50 events in the Black community,” Abrams said on Fox News Sunday. “I’m excited about the turnout we’re seeing — I’m excited about the engagement that we’re seeing. I know however that every election cycle, there has to be some worry, and in this case, it is a worry that’s being manufactured.”
Abrams added: “I may be African American, but I’m not entitled to a single vote that I don’t earn.”