The antidote to massive voter suppression is frankly massive vote mobilization: Fmr. NAACP President

Ben Jealous, President of People for the American Way, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the 2020 presidential election and the significance of minority voters in this race.

Video Transcript


KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome to 2020, A Time for Change. I'm Kristin Myers, joined by Sibile Marcellus and Jen Rogers. We have a packed show today so I want to get straight to it. Elections are just four days away. And according to the US Elections Project, more than 85 million people have already voted, with states like Georgia seeing a surge in Black voter turnout.

I want to bring on Ben Jealous. He's the former president of the NAACP and the current president of the progressive advocacy group, People for the American Way. Ben, thank you so much for joining us today. You know, over the last few months, we've seen a lot of protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, recently Walter Wallace, just to name a few.

Now, according to Pew Research study, from this month, actually, more than half of Black adults have been paying more attention to racial inequality than they were in just the past three months than they were before. Wondering if you can kind of explain to us and break down for us how much race has become one of the top voting issues for voters in this election cycle.

BEN JEALOUS: Well, what we've seen since 2010 is increased targeting of the Black vote. And so there's nothing really like attacking somebody's voting rights to get them to focus on how valuable their vote is. If somebody is not trying to steal your vote, you could take it for granted. But when they are, it's hard not to.

And what we know, what we've shown-- my friend John Lewis would tell us, if he was here, that the antidote to massive voter suppression is, frankly, massive vote mobilization. And so what we've been focused on at People For, specifically going after younger Black male voters, Black male voters under 50, and really helping them understand how important their vote is, and then how they actually follow through.

I'll give you two quick examples. If Black men had turned out at the same rate as Black women in Florida, in Georgia in 2018, well, we would have Black governors of those states right now. If they had turned out the same rate as Black women in Florida in 2016, we would have a different president. That's how important the Black male vote is.

KRISTIN MYERS: So Ben, I'm really glad you actually mentioned the Black male voter. Because Black women overwhelmingly say that they're going to be supporting Biden. They will be supporting Democratic candidates in this election.

But I've been hearing more and more reports of Black men voting for President Trump. I mean, recently, if we're going to look at the celebrities, Lil Wayne had been meeting with President Trump about the Platinum Plan and saying that he would be supporting the president.


KRISTIN MYERS: I'm wondering what's causing this rift and the desire for Black male voters to vote for Republican candidates, or more specifically, to vote for Donald Trump.

BEN JEALOUS: Well, specifically what we're talking about is more than 10% of Black men, talking about like 11%, 12%. 88%, 85%, 89%, 90% of Black men will still vote for Biden. But the reason why you see white men, brown men, Black men, all voting at higher rates for Trump than the women in each category, frankly, is his appeal to a chauvinism, to machismo, to patriarchy, by whatever name you call it.

And so what you see is in group after group, he trends higher with men. And it's that sort of strong man persona and, frankly, his tie to a past that many of us are eager to move beyond. But for some men, it feels like the most valuable thing they have, is the old way. And Trump is definitely tied to the old way in every respect.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And President Trump often talks about in appealing for the Black vote the work that he's done in terms of funding for historically Black colleges and universities. Do you think that is possibly having an impact in terms of support that there is, however small it might be, among Black voters for President Trump?

BEN JEALOUS: No, I mean, look, as a former trustee at Morehouse and a descendent of one of the founders of Virginia state, what I can tell you is that anybody who's president is involved. There's a White House Office on HBCUs. It's not new to Trump, and Trump has no history with HBCUs prior to coming into office. It's just simply a virtue of who's ever in the White House, there is a White House Office on HBCUs.

JEN ROGERS: So Ben, you've made the case for how big a difference Black men can make in a lot of these battleground states. I want to just go back to sort of this suppression case here. And I read a recent op-ed. And you wrote in there that Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election reported that no group of Americans was targeted by Russian intelligence more than African-Americans. Why do you think that is?

BEN JEALOUS: Sure, there is a understanding that if you want to help Democrats, you turn out Black folks. And if you want to hurt Democrats, you target Black folks. And Russian intelligence pretty clear was trying to help Trump in 2016. And so targeting the Black vote for confusion is just simply a high impact way to try to hurt a Democrat running for office.

The other reality I'd say is that, quite frankly, there is a level of frustration in at least half of our community that's trapped in poverty about any politicians. And so folks know that that's fertile ground for sort of mischief and confusion.

I'm glad to see, quite frankly, Biden competing more for the Black male vote. Democrats absolutely have to be making the case to their base and making it clear how they're going to improve people's lives. But there's no denying that, from the Russians to the far-right wing, there has been intentional targeting of the Black vote, and specifically of younger Black voters, and even within that, Black men who, frankly, have sky high joblessness in many places.

KRISTIN MYERS: So Ben, I want to ask you about something that markets are already assuming is going to happen, which is that Joe Biden is going to win the election on Tuesday, or that we'll at least have the results by Wednesday, and it will be a Joe Biden victory.

You know, Democrats have always, frankly, counted on minority votes. And what we've seen throughout the years is that voters, minority voters are saying, hey, great, we gave you our vote. And we don't feel like things are actually changing for us, right? We are still seeing huge disparities in median household wealth and income between Black and white households. We're still seeing huge disparities in unemployment rates between Blacks and whites and Hispanics and their white counterparts.

Do you think that this is going to be the year when politicians are actually going to be, and specifically Democratic politicians, are going to have to be held accountable for the more progressive policies that a lot of voters are saying we want and we're going to be demanding?

BEN JEALOUS: We absolutely have to keep pushing straight into January. First up, frankly, is going to be making sure that majority rule works in the US Senate. We cannot have a minority of Republican senators hold the nation hostage when it comes to making progress.

We saw that in 2009, 2010, the first two years of the Obama administration, where 400 progressive bills that were passed in the House died in the Senate because a minority of Republican GOP members, because of the peculiar rules of the Senate, were able to hold the US Senate hostage.

And so I think what you'll see is that when Biden wins-- let's just claim the victory in advance-- that progressives will be pushing very hard to make sure that all it takes is a majority in the US Senate to get the business of the American people done.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Do you think Kamala Harris and Joe Biden made a strong enough argument when it comes to social justice reform to really turn out the Black male vote, as you were mentioning before?

BEN JEALOUS: Yeah, well, I would kind of flip that. Donald Trump asked a question once, like, what do we have to lose? We have Breonna Taylor to lose. We have brother Arbery to lose. We have a young brother we just lost.

You know, the reality is that Donald Trump's call to extreme violence for everybody, from the far-right wing to the local police, has taken a real toll in our community. And his approach to COVID-- I mean Black men, Black women in my age band, 35 to 54, we're dying at 10x our white peers.

And so the reality is that I think in this case, Biden and Harris just simply had to make the argument that Black America will be safer with them. There's no question about that. It's going to be on us, frankly, to really push to ensure that real progress is made. That's a lot more than just who's the president and who's the vice president. It means we got to win these Senate races, and then we all have to dig in and keep on pushing.