The enduring impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on the 2020 elections

Dr Gabriel B. Tait

Assistant professor of Diversity and Media in the College of Communication, Information, and Media, Department of Journalism, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana. His research areas include, diversity and media, participatory photography and the role photography plays in constructing and representing cultural identities.  He is the creator of the visual research methodology, “Sight Beyond My Sight” (SBMS). 


Section 1: Policy and political context

The outcome of the 2020 United States presidential election may have been determined nearly six-months earlier with the confluence of nationally politicized medical and racial events.

In May 2020, the world was in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The United States had surpassed every other country in confirmed coronavirus cases and was on lockdown as locally mandated “stay at home” orders were issued. Then George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, died at the hands, or knee, of now-fired Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, the world turned its attention to social media channels and television broadcasts to watch recorded video of Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breathe” growing faint, handcuffed and pinned under Chauvin’s knee.

For Blacks, Floyd’s death was just another loss to systemic racism. But for the general public, the video taken by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier was proof positive of the intersection of police brutality, racial inequality, and social justice. The recording of Floyd’s death was a lens that revealed the harsh realities of Black life in America. For some, Floyd’s death and the media attention it garnered brought forth comparisons to the tragedy of Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. Both horrific events in Black history that influenced public opinion about the need for social and political reform. The events of Bloody Sunday gave people an in-your-face picture of the realities of segregation and police brutality in America. In parallel, George Floyd’s death also gave voice and credibility to many non-Black, oppressed people that Black lives, or at least in this case one Black life in the form of George Floyd, did matter.

Social Advocacy and Political Action

In the midst of the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets to assure their voices were heard. Chants of “Black Lives Matter” filled the air in over 150 cities. According to a Pew Research study, the BLM movement saw a 67% approval rating from May through June. It was through this movement that political and social justice allies like the NAACP, Divine Nine and National Pan-Hellenic Council (historically black fraternities and sororities), and similar organizations developed voter registration initiatives (like The Electoral Justice Project) to encourage voter turnout in hopes of changing the de facto support of police brutality against Black people.

Melinda Messineo, a Ball State University professor and sociologist, observed how the pandemic gave people the ability “to pause and hear the argument (for police reforms, racial and social justice, and political accountability) in a way that they hadn’t heard of before.” She added, “By protesting under the pandemic conditions, people were going out there, risking their own lives in a way that they didn’t have to before.” In spite of the groundswell of support from a majority of the American public, many on the political right were not as amenable to change. The pushback further set the political stage for clarion calls for reform.

Election Night (week)

The first votes in the U.S. election were cast shortly after midnight in Dixville Notch, a small township in New Hampshire. Former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, took all five votes for president. The clean sweep gave news broadcasters on three cable news channels pause, leading a few of them to jokingly ask if this vote was anecdotal evidence of a “blue wave” about to sweep across America. The answer was quickly realized when 16 of the 21 votes cast by residents from Millsfield, New Hampshire, were for President Trump, Biden received five votes. The final total 16 votes for Trump and 10 for Biden. The early vote in two small New Hampshire towns did not evidence a fast approaching “blue wave,” but it was foreshadowed the many ebbs and flows that marked the election. New Hampshire would offer a glimpse of our divided nation. A nation wrestling with its social, racial, and political identity, and with each state election result, a collective anxiety would rise depending on one’s political affiliation.

For four days, the nation held its collective breath, hoping the other side would not win. Phrases like, “We have to be patient,” “Transparency is going to be key,” “No rush in counting the votes,” “Take time to count the votes in PA,” and “The votes are coming in, but still need to be counted” were commonplace in media discourse. Around 11:25 a.m. EST. on Saturday, November 7th, media organizations called Pennsylvania for Biden. He was awarded its 20 electoral votes raising his total over the 270 electoral college votes required to win the race.


In the end, nearly 160 million votes were casts for the presidential candidates. For President-elect Joe Biden and the first Black female, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris their winning collation of Black and brown people and their big tent inclusive policies were a driving force in turning out over 48,032,772 absentee voters in a socially distant world. During Biden’s first speech as president-elect, he made several important acknowledgments affirming, “the African American community stood up again for me. They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.” Additionally, he declared his commitment to, “achieve racial justice and root out systemic racism in this country.” These tenants align with the early BLM movement and should serve as paths for the healing of our America.