University of Chicago professor Cathy J. Cohen led a national study about the attitudes and culture of young African-Americans and how these influence their personal and political decision making. In an interview with the Windy City Times, Cohen offers insight onto political trends among young blacks, and how to motivate young voters of color in the upcoming presidential election cycle.
Cohen’s surveys found many young black voters to be conservative on social issues, contrary to the popular narrative that the new generation of voters is widely progressive, and that current wedge issues like same-sex marriage and reproductive rights will become irrelevant in the near future.
During midterm election season, Jamilah King wrote about the changing dynamics among young voters of color since they clinched President Obama’s election in 2008. While the country’s first serious black presidential candidate, who espoused a progressive platform, brought out record numbers of new black and Latino voters, that energy has waned. In addition to low turnout amongst this base during midterms, King wrote back in October that there is "the belief that Democrats in general, and President Obama in particular, have lost sight of what inspired the nation’s young electorate to rally behind them in the first place: The promise of tangible change for their lives and their communities."
Cohen points to community organizations who already have legitimacy in communities of color as the best method to organize young blacks around these issues. And while she says it is important for progressives to motivate young black voters to support LGBT and women’s rights, Cohen notes that those platforms will not be the driving force to get young people of color to the polls come 2012.
"But there are issues that young Black people are much more concerned about than same-sex marriage. If you were to ask them what their [primary] concerns are, many would likely say schools, finding a job, the violence in their community, or housing. We can try to talk to them about same-sex marriage or LGBT rights …. but these issues are not really a concern to most young Black people, who have very few resources," Cohen said. "I’m just worried that right now [Obama] could have lost the opportunity to motivate many voters to those and many different positions."