In early May, Oregon State University associate professor Christopher Stout was published in a Washington Post article, “Having a woman of color as his running mate could help Joe Biden. This explains how.”
The piece explains how the Democratic party could prevail in the 2020 election with attention to mobilizing nonwhite groups, and was researched and written in conjunction with associate professor Keith Baker from The College at Brockport State University of New York.
Stout’s research interests include racial and ethnic politics, political behavior and representation, congress, public opinion and elections, and gender and politics.
The article presents his and Baker’s research, which was inspired by the landmark 2016 election, in which Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was attacked by the Trump campaign and Russian troll farms – institutionalized internet groups aiming to impact political opinion and agenda – based on her comments about “superpredators.”
These comments were made in a 1996 speech in New Hampshire, in reference to the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act which President Bill Clinton signed into law.
Hillary Clinton stated, “Just as in a previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels, they are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators — no conscience, no empathy.”
Though she did not explicitly reference race in the speech, Trump and his supporters used the quote, along with her support of the crime bill, to demobilize African American voters. Their goal was not to win their vote, which Trump had essentially already lost, but to have them not vote at all, and they seemingly succeeded.
In 2016, as Stout explains, Clinton had extremely low black voter turnout. In part, this was because her campaign did not focus on mobilizing racial and ethnic groups, and instead concentrated on swinging the vote of moderate Republicans in the last moments before the election. Black voter turnout took a decline in 2016 due to her lack of focus on these groups, but also because of Trump’s demobilizing tactic. These events begged the question for Stout and Baker: How can parties combat this?
Stout describes Biden as the “poster child” for this research, because he has been known to take controversial stances on busing and the 1994 crime bill, which he authored. Biden has already announced that he will be picking a female running mate – but Stout says that by picking someone younger, more dynamic, and part of a different ethnic or racial group, he can increase black voter turnout and help his campaign. This was true of Obama’s campaign, which mobilized many voters.
Stout explains, “African Americans are the ones who got him to this point – he did well in the South which made him a more credible candidate…. I think he should think about paying homage to the group who supported him.”
In the article, Stout and Baker write, “So how can Democrats neutralize such attacks? Our research finds that happens when parties nominate people of color for elected office. Even when parties are labeled as being racially insensitive, if a party runs a candidate of color, African Americans are more likely to discount these claims as baseless.”
Their research was conducted via a nationally representative experiment through Yougov that collected 1,500 respondents’ opinions on how likely they would be to vote in the 2020 election if the candidates were people of color. The results showed that running candidates of color can counteract attempts to depress black voter turnout.
Stout says, “The party is going to have to be proactive and work on mobilizing African Americans.” He suggests that Biden consider women like Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), politician, lawyer, and author Stacey Abrams, or Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). “Who he chooses as Vice President will matter, [as well as] the policies he chooses to support.”
The article notes that given Biden’s association and support from Obama, he may have some insulation that will help counteract attacks – “but that might not be enough.”
For now, Stout says that the winner of the 2020 election is still too close to call, especially with the current pandemic. However, he does say that Trump is losing in a lot of places he should be winning, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona.
“If I had to bet,” he said, “I would still bet that the odds are currently in Biden’s favor.”
By Cara Nixon