In the run-up to the 2024 election, a new survey examines the influence of Black male voters

A new survey of Black male voters in the Southeast offers key insights into how a historically overlooked voting bloc helped shape Georgia’s 2022 Senate race, and offers lessons for future campaigns.

Black men voting at election booths.
Black men voting at election booths. (Photo illustration: Jack Forbes; photos: Getty Images, Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A new survey of Black male voters suggests that the key to harnessing this potentially influential demographic group in 2024 will be direct outreach from campaigns, regardless of political party.

The survey, published this month by Black Men Decide, a nonpartisan organization devoted to increasing Black male voter engagement, polled 1,558 Black male voters in five states across the Southeastern U.S., a region that is home to the country’s largest population of African Americans.

Fred Hicks, an Atlanta-based political strategist and co-founder of Black Men Decide, told Yahoo News that he commissioned the study after Georgia’s consequential 2022 Senate race, in which Black men turned out in record numbers to vote, overwhelmingly, for the Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock.

The goal, Hicks explained, was to figure out whether “Georgia [is] the bellwether for the rest of the Southeast.”

For Hicks, one of the survey’s key findings was the apparent impact of direct outreach on motivating Black men to show up to the polls.

The survey found that while 66% of Black men in Georgia said they were contacted by a campaign during the last election cycle, less than half of respondents, 46% or fewer, in the other four states — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida reported being contacted by a campaign in 2022.

According to Hicks, this finding helps explain why Democrats won the Senate in Georgia but lost in Florida by 16 points, and it offers a valuable lesson to future campaigns about the power of direct outreach to Black men.

A potential shift in the electorate

While Black men have long been a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, exit poll data from recent presidential election cycles suggest that Black men are gradually leaving the Democratic Party. In 2008, 95% of Black male voters chose former President Barack Obama in his first presidential campaign. Four years later, Black men’s support for Obama slid to 87%. In 2016, 82% of Black men voted for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Most recently, President Biden won the support of 80% of Black male voters in 2020.

Surrounded by stacks of blue Obama Biden lawn signs and a large portrait of Obama subtitled Hope, Tony Smith works, with another African American volunteer in the background.
An Obama volunteer, Tony Smith, puts together yard signs in Obama campaign offices on Nov. 3, 2008, in Birmingham, Ala. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The new findings from the Black Men Decide survey offer additional insight into party affiliations among Black men in the Southeast.

When asked which party best reflects their values on social matters, 56% of respondents said the Democratic Party and 16% said the Republican Party. On fiscal matters, however, 53% of respondents said they were aligned with Democrats, while 20% chose Republicans. The remaining 27%-28% on both issues said neither party best represented them.

According to the survey, Republican support is strongest among Black men in Mississippi, at 33%, and lowest in Georgia, at just 10%. But nationally, the numbers over the last 14 years show a steady decline in support for Democrats among Black men.

For one Republican strategist, Paris Dennard, these numbers represent an opportunity for the GOP to directly engage with a voting bloc that has been historically ignored by the party.

“The Black male vote was critically important in the 2022 midterms, as seen in the last-minute direct appeals by Democrats and celebrities in Georgia to try to increase support from this important demographic group they have failed to expand their reach with for several years,” Dennard told Yahoo News in an email. “We have shown that our vote is up for grabs and we are willing to vote our values and our interests even if that means voting Republican, but there has to be direct engagement.”

Ted Johnson, a senior director at the Brennan Center for Justice, believes some Black men align themselves with Republicans because they favor the conservative ideals of self-determination and success based on hard work rather than government assistance.

An audience member in a row of African Americans wears a red Make American Great Again cap.
People wait for President Donald Trump during a rally at the Georgia World Congress Center to court African American votes on Nov. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Some conservative politicians in the Southeast are seizing the opportunity to win over Black male voters. During his re-election campaign last year, for example, Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp networked with Black leaders and visited Black schools, earning him the support of the rap artist and grassroots activist Michael “Killer Mike” Render. Render said Kemp was running an “effective campaign” with Black Georgians, something he argued that Kemp’s opponent, the Democrat Stacey Abrams, struggled to accomplish.

The survey also highlighted misconceptions that illustrate a potential disconnect between political messaging and the attitudes of Black male voters around such issues as police violence and gun rights.

Despite increased media attention on high-profile police killings of Black men, the survey showed that the majority of African American men supported platforms that maintained their Second Amendment right to bear arms and overwhelmingly supported police. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they trust police to do their job without bias.

“Black people are not anti-police, we just don't wanna get killed when we call the police,” Hicks said. “We don't wanna get beat up by the police.”

For many experts, the new data provides a potential formula for success that could work for members of either party looking to court the Black male vote.

“Election data has shown that Black men are more willing to vote in ways that differ from most other Black voters,” Sharon Austin, a political science professor at the University of Florida and expert on African American political activism, told Yahoo News. “Rather than ignoring Black male voters, candidates should specifically address issues, like economic issues, that these voters are most concerned with. If they do this, they can attract reasonable percentages of the Black male vote.”

Black men are increasingly engaged in elections

In 2020, African American voters made up about 13% of the U.S. electorate, with a record 30 million eligible to vote that year, according to Black Men Vote, another organization dedicated to increasing Black male voter education and registration. That number grew to nearly 33 million in 2022.

But Black men have consistently lagged behind Black women in voter participation.

In 2016, for instance, about 2 out of 3 eligible Black women, or 64%, said they voted, compared to about 1 out of 2 eligible Black men, or 54%, according to the Pew Research Center.

African-Americans line up to vote in a gym.
African Americans line up to vote in the presidential election on Nov. 4, 2008, at a recreation center in Birmingham, Ala. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

But new data suggests that the key to encouraging Black men to the polls, particularly in battleground states, is to devote more resources to direct outreach.

“When the electorate is near partisan parity, voter enthusiasm can be decisive, so it is important for both parties to activate their base,” Dr. Marvin King, associate professor of political science at the University of Mississippi, told Yahoo News. King noted that historically, lower Black male voter participation has meant that campaigns have deprioritized Black men.

As a result, organizers say Black men have become disenchanted with what they see as impersonal, transactional campaigning by many politicians.

“People come to our communities two, three months before an election, talking about proverbial fried chicken and church fans, with nothing else to offer us, nothing to address the issue that's really plaguing our lives,” W. Mondale Robinson, founder of the Black Male Voter Project and mayor of Enfield, N.C., told USA Today.

But that attitude has begun to change, as Black men have become increasingly aware of how their votes can influence policy, thanks, in part, to radio programs like The Breakfast Club and podcasts like Earn Your Leisure, which cater to majority Black audiences.

Rashad Bilal, Troy Millings and John Hope Bryant speak onstage with a banner in the background saying: Spotlight, Earn Your Leisure, Rashad Balil [sic] and Troy Millings, Operation Hope.
From left, Earn Your Leisure Co-CEOs Rashad Bilal, Troy Millings and Operation HOPE Chairman and CEO John Hope Bryant speak on stage during the ninth Annual HOPE Global Forums on Dec. 13, 2022, in Atlanta. (Derek White/Getty Images for Operation HOPE, Inc.)

Dennard, the Republican strategist and onetime surrogate for former President Donald Trump, said political campaigns can learn from the way these shows approach discussions of socioeconomic issues, such as building wealth, that make them relatable for Black men.

“Ultimately, campaigns need to take all their policy points and political positions and make it applicable, relevant and real to Black male voters,” he said.

Debate over the importance of the Black male vote

Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist and founder of Blueprint Strategy, told Yahoo News that he believes the Black male vote is “the most consequential voting bloc in this country.”

“You can win with us, but you can certainly lose without us,” he said.

But not everyone is convinced that Black men hold that much power in the electorate.

Dr. Maruice Mangum, chair of the Department of Political Science at Jackson State University in Alabama, believes that the Black male vote is only relevant when coupled with that of Black women.

“The Black male vote is important because the Black vote is important,” Mangum told Yahoo News. “The problem for Blacks is that they need all hands on deck. Both Black men and Black women are needed to vote to effect desired outcomes. If either the Black male or Black female vote decides to reduce turnout, then it is over for Black people for those offices.”

Residents of the historically African American neighborhood of Harlem wait in line to vote.
Residents of New York's historically African American neighborhood of Harlem wait in line to vote on Election Day on Nov. 4, 2008. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Michael Harriet, an acclaimed poet and journalist, echoed this view after last year’s midterms, observing that even though Democrats’ aggressive outreach in Georgia had resulted in record turnout by Black men, it still wasn’t enough to deliver Abrams a victory in the governor’s race.

“According to exit polls, Abrams had MORE support from Black men than Dems had nationwide,” Harriet tweeted after the midterm race. “In fact, if every single Black male Kemp voter had voted for Abrams instead, she still would’ve lost. Turns out, the ‘Black male voter problem’ was a lie.”

Systemic issues also play a large role in why the Black male vote has not been as influential as it could be, according to Seawright, who says that the Black male vote should be “treated as an investment, not an expense.” Mississippi has the highest rate of Black residents in the country, at about 40%, but 15% are permanently barred from voting due to voter suppression policies that date back to the era of Reconstruction. In Alabama and Louisiana, Democrats have accused Republicans of “vote dilution,” by redistricting the states so that few Black districts exist in comparison to white ones.

For Hicks, the survey ultimately proved that a strong campaign targeting Black men effectively could make the difference at the ballot box.

“If you are in a state that has a critical mass of Black men — that’s anywhere in the Southeast — then you can really impact the election by simply talking to Black men, engaging Black men,” he said.

Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Jack Forbes; Photos: Getty Images, Alex Wong/Getty Images