A Black, Latinx, and Independent alliance

African Americans, Latinx, and Independents were the critical margin of victory for President-elect Joseph Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris when the state of Pennsylvania called the contest in their favor just before noon on Saturday, November 7, securing enough Electoral College votes to win the presidential election. In a close and deeply divided partisan race in which nearly 160 million voters in the United States—a record number of American voters—participated, it was the swing constituency of independents along with Black and Latinx voters who helped to put the Biden-Harris ticket over the top, both in the popular vote and in key battleground states.

According to national exit polling data conducted by Edison Research, political independents (the approximately 43% of voters nationally who self-identify as such according to Gallup) favored Biden-Harris 54%-40%. Four years ago, Donald Trump had a 4-point edge among non-aligned voters. In 2008, Barack Obama won them by 8 points. The 14-point margin among independent voters was the most for a presidential candidate since 1988, when Republican nominee George H. W. Bush won independents over Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis by the same margin.

Jacqueline Salit, President of Independent Voting, the nation’s largest network of independent voters seeking to reform the political process, observed, “Independents are a volatile community of voters. They elected two successive ‘outsider’ presidents, in the hopes of establishing a new direction, something other than the status quo. In this cycle, they elected a consummate insider who says he can bring unity and balance to government in a time of crisis. Their impact was huge. But no one should interpret this vote as a pledge of party allegiance [for the Democratic Party]. If anything, it’s a vote that says, ‘get us out of this partisan sinkhole.” Salit added, “If you were to combine the independent voter community with the African American and Latino communities, both of which heavily influenced the outcome, you’d have the makings of a potent third force that defies political categories.”

Black Lives Matter Plaza, 11/8/20 – Picture by: Victoria Pickering, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This all-important margin is evident both at the national level in the popular vote and in the states that put the Biden-Harris ticket over the top. At this point in the national vote count, nearly 22 million independents cast votes for Biden-Harris and 16.2 million voted for Trump-Pence. Biden’s independent margin is 5.7 million votes, well over his 4 million vote lead in the overall national vote count.

It was also the independent vote that provided the Democratic ticket with a margin of victory in two of the three pivotal Rust Belt states that Trump won in 2016: Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Independents in Pennsylvania chose Biden-Harris by 8 points, 51%-43%. Specifically, 689,000 independents in Pennsylvania cast ballots for the Democratic ticket as compared to 581,000 for Trump. This margin of 108,000 votes among independent voters exceeds Biden’s 41,200 vote lead in Pennsylvania overall. Meanwhile, Biden won Wisconsin independents by 55%-41%, outpolling Trump by 580,000 to 433,000. There, Biden’s lead among independents is over 147,000 votes, well more than the 20,500 votes that constitute his margin of victory in the state.

Just as African Americans in South Carolina propelled Biden to the Democratic Party nomination in the summer, so did black voters and Latinx voters come out in force for the Biden-Harris presidential ticket. Upwards of 87% of black voters supported Biden-Harris nationally, and in critical states, such as Arizona, Latinx voters came out 2 to 1 in their favor (but fell shy in Florida where Latinx voters favored Biden just above 50% over Trump). Across the country young and first-time voters bolstered the President and Vice President-elect, fueled in much part by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Together, Black, Latinx and Independent voters also elected the first female-Black-South Asian (Afro-South Asian) vice-presidential candidate. Harris’ history-making accomplishment grew on the barriers broken by Dr. Lenora Fulani in 1988 as the first woman (and African American) on the ballot in all fifty states in 1988 running for president as an independent and President Obama in 2008 as the nation’s first black president. In 2020, we see the makings of a potentially powerful Black, Latinx, and independent alliance, or as Salit puts it, “a potent third force that defies political categories.”