Friday, September 11, 2015

You can actually ask black voters what they think about Sanders

In the latest of a growing genre - Why Aren't More Black Voters Feeling the Bern? - Terrel Jermaine Starr gives us nearly 4,000 words that, once again, fails to actually investigate what black voters think about Bernie Sanders.

This has gone from embarrassing to surreal. The volume of pieces that "explore" / "voice" / "report on" what black Americans think about Bernie Sanders can now be measured in tons, and yet as far as I can tell we haven't even seen a single attempt to actually determine this in any meaningful way. It's not an impossible or even particularly difficult task. We have an extremely simple and rigorous way to answer this sort of question: it's called "polling". You can ask a lot of black voters what they think about Bernie Sanders and why they think what they do, and then you can tabulate their answers and get a very clear and objective picture of the national trends. You can present all of this exhaustively in a table or chart. There is no need to speculate or ask "experts" what they think about this. You can just find out.

Jamil Smith suggestively refers to Starr's article as the "report his editors almost quashed." Why didn't they? To his credit, Starr puts in a lot more work than most of his peers on the topic (including Smith), interviewing more than a dozen sources and even throwing in some tangentially related polling. This is infinitely better than the eight paragraphs of armchair analysis and Twitter quotes that have become the industry standard - but it still fails to answer its own question, also per industry standard.

Let me spell this out:
  • Everyone knows that Sanders has significantly less support among black voters than Clinton.
  • Everyone knows that his favorables among black Americans remain low.
  • Everyone knows that media personalities, political operatives and sundry academics have all kinds of differing and often competing explanations about why this is.
  • None of this answers the question.
There are obvious reasons why expert perspectives and pure conjecture may not be the best sources of knowledge about what black Americans think. There are also, to be blunt, obvious reasons why you might rely on experts and conjecture anyway - and none of these reasons are flattering. So do yourself a favor, do your readers a favor, and do black Americans a favor the next time you want to know what they think about Bernie Sanders. Ask them.