Everybody has the races that are most important to them personally. For me that choice is easy. The Georgia and Florida gubernatorial contests will tell us much about the direction America is heading, but not for the reasons you’re probably thinking.
Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams could become the first African-American governors of both Florida and Georgia, respectively, and most attention is being focused on the African-American and Latino turnout. Yet we need to pay a lot more attention to white voter turnout, especially white women. The need for a high minority turnout is a given in both those races, but if they make it over the top, it will also be because they persuaded enough white voters, women especially, to pull their lever.
These elections are complex, but they’re also pretty, um, black and white.
Georgia: Think 30 Percent
Let’s start in Georgia. In 2016, white voters made up 60 percent of the total electorate, while African-Americans were 30 percent. Hillary Clinton won 21 percent of the white vote: 26 percent of white women and 16 percent of white men. Clinton also won only 89 percent of the black vote, way down from Barack Obama’s 98 percent in 2008. Clinton only won 83 percent of black men and 94 percent of black women.
Abrams is expected to surpass those numbers. But an increase in black voters isn’t enough to put her over the top, and no one expects white men to do the right thing, so the onus of this election outside the black community will largely fall on white women. White women need to come out and support a black woman, and sadly it is unclear if they will.
For much of American history, black women have been our society’s ignored demographic, constantly asked to support the causes of others. American feminism has a long history of white women overlooking the struggles of black women while also expecting the support of black women.
Abrams’ unprecedented political rise means that we honestly know very little about what white women will do. She needs to beat 26-percent support among white women. Estimates say that Abrams needs about 25 percent of the white vote. Assuming a very low level of support among white men, that means 30 percent of white women, maybe even a third.
This can happen if more parts of metro Atlanta turn purple or blue.
The layout of Atlanta and Georgia has been and still is defined by the white flight of the 1960s and ’70s. As African-Americans moved to Atlanta, white people moved to the suburbs. The city of Atlanta hasn’t had a white mayor since 1974, and a Republican hasn’t been mayor since President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Nedom Angier in 1877 at the end of Reconstruction.
However, metro Atlanta, where I’m from, is where all of these conservative white people flew to. It has been staunchly conservative ever since—until 2016, when Clinton won both Cobb and Gwinnett counties, two of the most influential Republican areas.
How did Cobb and Gwinnett change? Younger progressive women who a decade ago would move into Atlanta have opted to stay in Cobb because it is more affordable. Many of them are backing Abrams. Additionally, more and more white women in Cobb are opposed to President Trump, so if they view Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp as an extension of Trump, they could support Abrams.
And Kemp’s decision to skip Sunday’s gubernatorial debate to campaign with Trump has probably done him no favors with this demographic. Kemp—who as Georgia’s current secretary of state is overseeing his own election—is clearly banking on his power to suppress black voters to secure victory, which further raises the importance of white women.
Clinton won Cobb with 48.9 percent and Gwinnett with 51 percent. In 2010, Gwinnett became a majority-minority county, so Abrams could win it again without an uptick in white women voters. But as a native of Cobb County, I can say that white women will play a big role in determining the fate of this county, and potentially the state too.
Florida: The One-Point State
Despite being Georgia’s neighbor to the South, and also having an African-American gubernatorial candidate, Florida’s race is vastly different. Florida has always been slightly more liberal and diverse than Georgia, and this bodes well for Gillum.
In 2016, white voters made up about 62 percent of Florida’s electorate, and Clinton won 36 percent of white women. If Abrams pulled those numbers in Georgia she’d win in a landslide.
The big difference in Florida is that African-Americans make up about 14 percent of voters and Latinos are about 18 percent. Trump won 35 percent of Florida’s Latino vote in 2016, but there is almost no chance that Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis will win a similar share.
Florida’s gubernatorial and presidential elections have been decided by one percentage point since 2010, and Obama defeated Sen. John McCain by 3 points in 2008. The expected increase in black voter support for Gillum and the decrease in Latino support for DeSantis, compared to Trump’s 2016 total, should give Gillum the governorship, unless white voters recoil so dramatically from the prospect of voting for a black governor that DeSantis wins around 70 percent of the white vote. Trump only won 60 percent.
Again, like Abrams, Gillum’s candidacy is unprecedented, so it is unclear how white voters will respond. Based on DeSantis’ race-baiting and dogwhistles, he’s banking on the inner racist of white Floridians to carry him across the finish line. Both races are tight—Gillum just ahead, Abrams and Kemp tied.
As a Georgia native, I honestly had never imagined the Peach State having a black governor. Sure, when Obama won the White House, I thought the possibility had increased. But we’re talking about the South. Former mayors of Atlanta like Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson would have made excellent governors. There’s no way they would have won a statewide election.
Yet here we are with potentially a black woman and a black man as governors of Georgia and Florida, respectively. In Georgia, that means Stacey Abrams sitting in the old office of racist governor Lester Maddox. I know the black community will do every thing they can to win these elections, but to make the previously unimaginable the new norm, we’ll need our white neighbors to denounce racism and extend the sisterhood of feminism to a black woman.