I’ll be the first to admit I’m no pollster or even political scientist, but when I read that Bernie Sanders is going to be crushed by Hillary Clinton in Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, the state that fired the opening shots in the Civil War and that only last year took down a Confederate battle flag in front of the capitol building, I have to shake my head at the absurdity of it.
Yo! Pollsters! The reason Sanders is predicted to lose badly is because African Americans in that benighted state are telling your people that they favor Hillary Clinton by a margin variously calculated at 30-50%. Then you all put those numbers together with the fact that historically, 55% of the Democratic vote in South Carolina (where blacks represent 28 percent of the state population), are African American, and you say Bernie doesn’t have a chance. Then you go on to say that is going to hurt Sanders in next week’s Super Tuesday contests, which are all over the place, and on into the rest of the primaries.
But wait a minute. Why should Saturday’s primary results matter? South Carolina is, along with Mississippi and Alabama, one of the most solidly Republican states in the country. It’s not going to vote Democratic in November whoever wins the Democratic presidential primary.
Now if the black share of the vote in tomorrow’s primary were representative of the sentiments of black voters all across the country — urban, rural, southern, northern, eastern and western — I could see why maybe there’d be some reason to pay attention, but that is not the case. Hardley.
What we have in South Carolina is a population of black people who have been exiled or marginalized from the state’s political system since Reconstruction, or really since their ancestors were brought over in chains from Africa — a population that despite constituting more than a quarter of the state’s citizens has been living in what is effectively still an oppressive, crushing apartheid socio-political-econoomic system. That’s a far cry from in the north or the far west, where concentrated African-American populations — descendants of the great migration from the agrarian south — have achieved plurality or even majority status in many cities, and have been able to take on, ameliorate or even overcome some of the oppressive conditions under which they and their forebears have lived. They’ve elected black mayors and black councilmembers, integrated police departments, and opened up hiring in municipal jobs, for example. They’ve even elected blacks to Congress, and in significant numbers. In places like that, who wins the presidency becomes less important an issue. But in a backward racist place like South Carolina, where it isn’t even socially unacceptable for a white guy to admit he’s in the Klan in some communities, it can seem crucial — even a matter of survival.
Over and over, black voters in South Carolina are telling pollsters that even though they may not trust Hillary Clinton, even though they know she and husband Bill passed legislation that hurt black people, like such incarceration policies as mandatory sentencing guidelines, an end to critical welfare programs, and cuts in other benefits, they’ll vote for her. Even even though they may be impressed with Bernie Sanders’ record of support for civil rights and poverty relief dating back to when he was a college student in the early 1960s (at a time when Hillary Clinton was working for arch-right-winger and Civil Rights Act opponent Barry Goldwater), they say they’ll vote for her. Why? They say they think she has a better chance of defeating whoever will become the Republican presidential candidate this November.
Some disturbing facts about race realities in South Carolina:
* The wage gap between black women and white men in the state is the fourth worst in the nation, with only Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama worse. South Carolina’s black women earn 58 cents versus $1 dollar for white men.
* As of the first quarter of 2015, when the official national unemployment was 5.5%, it was 4.1% for whites and $10.1% for blacks. But in South Carolina, where the national rate was 6.6%, it was 4.6% for whites and 11.8% for blacks.
* In the five years 2010-15, South Carolina police shot 209 people. Though the population of the state is just 28% black, 100 of those shot were black, of whom 34 died. Police shot 64 whites over the same period, of whom 41 died. The remaining 5 shooting victims were of other non-white races, 4 of whom died. Only nine officers were prosecuted for shooting someone, and none were convicted.
When viewed in this light, the voting preference of the majority of especially older black voters in South Carolina is completely rational and understandable. Blacks in South Carolina are living in a state where they have everything stacked against them — segregated schools, murderous mostly white police, a completely biased state judicial system, a prison system that is little more than a modern plantation, and an economy that keeps them at the bottom — so they can’t afford to gamble on the electability of an “avowed socialist” as the media insist on referring to Sanders, even if his positions and program proposals would be much better for black and poor citizens. They see him as a long shot, and too big a risk, given the conditions of life they face in South Carolina.
There are some hints that Sanders, when the votes are all counted, may do significantly better than the pollsters are saying. If so, it will be because students and young people, black and white, came out in bigger than normal numbers for him, reducing the overall significance of the black Democratic vote, but it will also be because word’s getting around that Sanders actually does better against the likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump, than Clinton does in one-on-one match-ups, according to those same pollsters who are reporting that Sanders is toast in South Carolina. It will be because black South Carolinians, after closing that curtain behind them in the voting both, and thinking about Hillary Clinton’s financial backing from the for-profit prison industry and from the very banks that stole so many of their homes during the Fiscal Crisis and Great Recession, the pharmaceutical industry that makes their medications so unaffordable, and the military contractors who send their husbands and sons off to kill and die in pointless wars, they will change their mind and vote for a guy who’s stood with them for as long as he’s been politically involved, Or maybe they’ll be stuck with that latest image of Hillary Clinton, just having had her $500/plate fundraiser in South Carolina interrupted by an emotional #BlackLivesMatter protester challenging her for past racism, and thinking the young woman was gone and the cameras and mic were off, grumpily remarking to her toney guests, “Back to the issues…”
Whatever the case, even if Sanders bombs in South Carolina, it won’t mean much in terms of how he’ll do in future contests outside the Deep South, the Republican heartland. What will matter is what happens in the primaries going forward from there.