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Politicians need to mobilize Black male voters ahead of the midterms, experts say

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Signs indicate the location of an early voting polling site at Frank McCourt High School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City on Tuesday, November 1, 2022.

With one day left before voting ends in this year's midterm elections, the latest NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll shows some warning signs for Democrats — specifically regarding who is more likely to vote in this year's races.

Across factors including age, race, income and gender, the survey shows Black voters are among the least enthusiastic about voting in the midterms. And Black voters have, historically, voted for Democrats at a higher rate, with Black women among the most reliable voters within the party.

However, as with any voting bloc, there's still a vast array of diverging opinions, ideologies and issues that are important among Black voters.

"At the end of the day, it really comes down to the choice [of] abortion rights well as voting rights," said Al Heartley, of Smyrna, Ga.

Heartley told NPR he's voting for Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams in the state's closely watched race for governor, in addition to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock for U.S. Senate.

However, he says that his experiences as a Black man in the U.S. should matter to politicians.

"Black men have a voice and have a perspective," Heartley said. "You have to acknowledge where I am as a Black person first. To me, that's what Warnock and Abrams really do."

For voters like Donnell Brunson of Fairness Hills, Pa., relatability matters when it comes to voting for politicians.

"Fetterman is like an everyday-looking guy. I like my politicians more 'of the people,'" Brunson told NPR.

Even though he is supporting Democrat John Fetterman in the U.S. Senate race over the Republican candidate, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Brunson says he doesn't feel like politicians across the country understand what it takes to win support from more Black men.

"It's clear to me that they don't have minorities or people of color in their inner circle advising them. They're assuming what we want," Brunson said. "And we want the same things other voters want: jobs, economics, education."

The gender gap in voting isn't specific to Black voters

While college-educated white women, who are an important bloc for Democrats, are among the most enthusiastic to vote, recent polling further suggests that Black and Latino voters, in addition to young voters, are among the least.

Terrance Woodbury, CEO of HIT Strategies, a polling firm specializing in understanding young and minority voters, tells NPR's All Things Considered that while there is a gender gap in voting when it comes to Black men and women, it's not particularly unique to Black voters — but to voters across all races.

"What's unique about Black male voters is that they were Democratic voters; they were supporting Barack Obama at 90%+ margins," said Woodbury.

"Now that we've seen that decline to 79% or 80%, it is in fact enough to make the marginal difference in states like Georgia, Wisconsin and North Carolina where they have diverse candidates at the top of the ticket," he added.

Candidates should work on closing the enthusiasm gap, experts say

Recent data from pollsters suggest that candidates from either party should focus on key issues in order to close the enthusiasm gap — especially with Black men.

"While this election cycle is being defined by democrats, by the threat of the other side ...the threat of losing democracy, that in fact Black men are more motivated by the progress Democrats have made," Woodbury said.

In recent polling by HIT Strategies, 73% of Black men said their lives had not improved since Biden took office last year.

However, when given a list of policies to those being polled — such as the Child Tax Credit, the police reform executive order and the bipartisan infrastructure bill — Woodbury says that 90% of Black men said that the progress indeed improved their lives.

"It's clear to me that it seems like we're dealing with a messaging problem and connecting Black men with the progress that's being made," he said.

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