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You Asked Us: Why Do Black Voters Support Hillary Clinton?

Ethnic minority voters are the key to Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. Why don't they like Bernie Sanders?

Hillary Clinton won almost everywhere with everyone last night. She won women – by 32 points.  She won among white voters, among the over-30s, with Hispanics. But her biggest victories – and the votes that have ended Bernie Sanders’ hopes of securing the nomination – came from black people. Across the 11 states contested last night, she won black voters by 68 points. In Alabama, she got 92 per cent of the black vote.

It wasn’t just last night, either. As listeners to our podcast will know, one of the reasons why I never took the time to form a strong opinion about the merits of Bernie Sanders is because it was clear, even in his great triumph in New Hampshire, that he simply didn’t have a wide enough reach across the Democratic coalition. 

It was ethnic minority voters who powered Clinton’s victories in Nevada and South Carolina – even in ultra-white Iowa, her razor-thin victory came off the backs of minority voters, who preferred her to Sanders.

Why don’t black voters back Sanders? It’s a question that I’m often emailed as part of our “You Asked Us” feature on our podcast. (Did I mention we have a podcast? You can subscribe on iTunes.)

It’s a little about Sanders, a lot about the Clintons, and a little, too, about the question itself.

Firstly, Sanders’ problem is not a new one. He is from a long line of American liberals who have struggled to connect with black voters – Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas – which used to be a mild inconvenience for Democratic politicians and is now an insurmountable obstacle. (If America looked like it did in 1988, it would be Sanders who was in a commanding position in the primary race, and Clinton without a chance.)

Sanders – or his similarly demographically limited predecessors – has simply not had to speak to or about the issues facing black America all that much. Unlike Bill Clinton, a southern Democrat, for whom the black vote was an essential element of his successful bids not just for the Presidency but for his gubernatorial runs in Arkansas, or Hillary herself, a Senator for New York for eight years.

And while the compromises of what we may soon start calling the first Clinton era had dire repercussions for African Americans, Sanders’ Congressional career is no bed of roses either. Sanders voted for the same 1994 crime bill that saw the number of incarcerated black Americans skyrocket. His opposition to large waves of gun control legislation has directly endangered American lives just as surely as Bill Clinton’s bowing to a Republican Congress did.

Sanders, too, has spent large chunks of the last eight years opposing America’s first black President – calling for him to face a primary challenge in 2012, voting against his attempt to close Guantanamo in 2009. The small number of African Americans who have endorsed Sanders have tended to be hyper-critical of Obama – like Cornel West, or Killer Mike.

You can argue that Obama has deserved all that criticism, and whether or not black America has tended to turn a blind eye to the disappointments of the Obama administration – for a fuller explanation of the relationship between Obama and black America, Michael Eric Dyson’s The Black Presidency is indispensable – the fact remains: anti-Obamaism has been a large component of Sandersism, a sort of electoral halitosis that he has been unable to overcome.

But it’s worth noting that, actually, Sanders does fairly well among black Americans in the polls. Black Americans think that Sanders is honest, trustworthy, and so forth. They just don’t vote for him because they like the Clintons more.

A large part of that lies in the Clintons and their record. Under Bill Clinton, median household income grew by 25 per cent in African-American households, at double the speed as it did for households nationwide. Unemployment among African Americans fell by six points, against a three-point drop among the population as a whole. It was the first time in American history that the fruits of economic boom were truly felt in black households.

And crucially, the Clintons turn up to stuff. In this race, Clinton has been talking about fitting police with body cameras – a key demand of the Black Lives Matter campaign – before Sanders was even a candidate. The Sanders campaign produced one of the most powerful political adverts in history, designed to fix their candidate’s problem with ethnic minority voters. But it was produced just weeks before voting started in South Carolina. It was beautiful – but it was a beautiful afterthought.

Whereas Hillary Clinton has put in the hard yards if nothing else, and to many black voters, does genuinely seem to get it. That there is something more than just political opposition in the Republican reaction to Obama. 

And then there’s the supporter problem. Throughout the race, there has been an attitude among some Sanders supporters that either condescends or ignores black voters. That emails to say that of course, black voters might not be going for Sanders just yet, but as soon as they “listen to his message” they will be won over. That says, effectively, that Clintonism is a state of sin from which black voters will shortly be uplifted. Or, writes, as the Guardian did, that “the Clinton machine” has “a hold” on African-American voters, who didn’t vote for Clinton in 2008 and are no more in “the hold” of a “machine” as white liberal graduates – who have voted for Sanders at every election he has fought since 1991 – are for Sanders. That describes Clinton as the candidate of “corporate America” and ignores the fact that she is also the candidate of black America.  That describes Sanders as the “candidate of the future”, when the future of the Democratic Party increasingly rests on the same demographics that are least friendly towards Sanders.

That asks “why are black voters backing Hillary Clinton?” Well, for the same reason that white millennials are backing Bernie Sanders. Because they think she’s the candidate that best reflects their hopes and can win policy victories for them.

They may be wrong – but the presumption that they are any less well-informed or fixed in their views than supporters of the Sanders deserves greater examination than it has thus far received.

If you have any questions you’d like us to tackle either on the podcast or on the Staggers, drop me an email at stephen.bush<at>newstatesman.co.uk and we’ll try to tackle it. Eventually.  

Now listen to Stephen Bush  and Helen Lewis discuss Super Tuesday, on the New Statesman Podcast:

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Arsène Wenger: The Innovator in Old Age

As the Arsenal manager announces his departure from the club after more than two decades, the New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, appreciates English football’s first true cosmpolitan. 

How to account for the essence of a football club? The players and managers come and go, of course, and so do the owners. The fans lose interest or grow old and die. Clubs relocate to new grounds. Arsenal did so in the summer of 2006 when they moved from the intimate jewel of a stadium that was Highbury to embrace the soulless corporate gigantism of the Emirates. Clubs can even relocate to a new town or to a different part of a city, as indeed Arsenal also did when they moved from south of the Thames to north London in 1913 (a land-grab that has never been forgiven by their fiercest rivals, Tottenham). Yet something endures through all the change, something akin to the Aristotelian notion of substance.

Before Arsène Wenger arrived in London in late September 1996, Arsenal were one of England’s most traditional clubs: stately, conservative, even staid. Three generations of the Hill-Wood family had occupied the role of chairman. In 1983, an ambitious young London businessman and ardent fan named David Dein invested £290,000 in the club. “It’s dead money,” said Peter Hill-Wood, an Old Etonian who had succeeded his father a year earlier. In 2007, Dein sold his stake in the club to Red & White Holdings, co-owned by the Uzbek-born billionaire Alisher Usmanov, for £75m. Not so dead after all.

In the pre-Wenger years, unfairly or otherwise, the Gunners were known as “lucky Arsenal”, a pejorative nickname that went back to the 1930s. For better or worse, they were associated with a functional style of play. Under George Graham, manager from 1986 to 1995, they were exponents of a muscular, sometimes brutalist, long-ball game and often won important matches 1-0. Through long decades of middling success, Arsenal were respected but never loved, except by their fans, who could be passionless when compared to, say, those of Liverpool or Newcastle, or even the cockneys of West Ham.

Yet Wenger, who was born in October 1949, changed everything at Arsenal. This tall, thin, cerebral, polyglot son of an Alsatian bistro owner, who had an economics degree and was never much of a player in the French leagues, was English football’s first true cosmopolitan.

He was naturally received with suspicion by the British and Irish players he inherited (who called him Le Professeur), the fans (most of whom had never heard of him) and by journalists (who were used to clubbable British managers they could banter with over a drink). Wenger was different. He was reserved and self-contained. He refused to give personal interviews, though he was candid and courteous in press conferences during which he often revealed his sly sense of humour.

He joined from the Japanese J League side, Nagoya Grampus Eight, where he went to coach after seven seasons at Monaco, and was determined to globalise the Gunners. This he did swiftly, recruiting players from all over the world but most notably, in his early years, from France and francophone Africa. I was once told a story of how, not long after joining the club, Wenger instructed his chief scout, Steve Rowley, to watch a particular player. “You’ll need to travel,” Wenger said. “Up north?” “No – to Brazil,” came the reply. A new era had begun.

Wenger was an innovator and disrupter long before such concepts became fashionable. A pioneer in using data analysis to monitor and improve performance, he ended the culture of heavy drinking at Arsenal and introduced dietary controls and a strict fitness regime. He was idealistic but also pragmatic. Retaining Graham’s all-English back five, as well as the hard-running Ray Parlour in midfield, Wenger over several seasons added French flair to the team – Nicolas Anelka (who was bought for £500,000 and sold at a £22m profit after only two seasons), Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pirès. It would be a period of glorious transformation – Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup “double” in his first full season and went through the entire 2003-2004 League season unbeaten, the season of the so-called Invincibles.

The second decade of Wenger’s long tenure at Arsenal, during which the club stopped winning titles after moving to the bespoke 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium, was much more troubled. Beginning with the arrival of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in 2003, the international plutocracy began to take over the Premier League, and clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, much richer than Arsenal, spent their way to the top table of the European game. What were once competitive advantages for Wenger – knowledge of other leagues and markets, a worldwide scouting network, sports science – became routine, replicated even, in the lower leagues.

Wenger has spoken of his fear of death and of his desire to lose himself in work, always work. “The only possible moment of happiness is the present,” he told L’Équipe in a 2016 interview. “The past gives you regrets. And the future uncertainties. Man understood this very fast and created religion.” In the same interview – perhaps his most fascinating – Wenger described himself as a facilitator who enables “others to express what they have within them”. He yearns for his teams to play beautifully. “My never-ending struggle in this business is to release what is beautiful in man.”

Arsène Wenger is in the last year of his contract and fans are divided over whether he should stay on. To manage a super-club such as Arsenal for 20 years is remarkable and, even if he chooses to say farewell at the end of the season, it is most unlikely that any one manager will ever again stay so long or achieve so much at such a club – indeed, at any club. We should savour his cool intelligence and subtle humour while we can. Wenger changed football in England. More than a facilitator, he was a pathfinder: he created space for all those foreign coaches who followed him and adopted his methods as the Premier League became the richest and most watched in the world: one of the purest expressions of let it rip, winner-takes-all free-market globalisation, a symbol of deracinated cosmopolitanism, the global game’s truly global league. 

(2017)

Postscript

Arsène Wenger has announced he is stepping down, less than a year after signing a new two-year contract in the summer of 2017. A run to the Europa League finals turned out not to be enough to put off the announcement to the end of the season.

Late-period Wenger was defined by struggle and unrest. And the mood at the Emirates stadium on match day was often sour: fans in open revolt against Wenger, against the club’s absentee American owner Stan Kroenke, against the chief executive Ivan Gazidis, and sometimes even against one another, with clashes between pro and anti-Wenger factions. As Arsenal’s form became ever more erratic, Wenger spoke often of how much he suffered. “There is no possibility not to suffer,” he said in March 2018. “You have to suffer.”

Arsenal once had special values, we were told, and decision-making was informed by the accumulated wisdom of past generations. But the club seems to have lost any coherent sense of purpose or strategic long-term plan, beyond striving to enhance the profitability of the “franchise”.

The younger Wenger excelled at discovering and nurturing outstanding young players, especially in his early seasons in north London. But that was a long time ago. Under his leadership, Arsenal became predictable in their vulnerability and inflexibility, doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes, especially defensive mistakes. They invariably faltered when confronted by the strongest opponents, the Manchester clubs, say, or one of the European super-clubs such as Bayern Munich or Barcelona.

Wenger’s late struggles were a symbol of all that had gone wrong at the club. The vitriol and abuse directed at this proud man was, however, often painful to behold.

How had it come to this? There seems to be something rotten in the culture of Arsenal football club. And Wenger suffered from wilful blindness. He could not see, or stubbornly refused to see, what others could: that he had become a man out of a time who had been surpassed by a new generation of innovators such as Pep Guardiola and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino. “In Arsene we trust”? Not anymore. He had stayed too long. Sometimes the thing you love most ends up killing you.

 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.