Black women in N.J. are frustrated with politics, groundbreaking poll finds

Black women under 40, feeling politically disconnected and discouraged about their economic prospects, are less likely to vote in the upcoming midterm congressional elections than their older peers, according to a groundbreaking new poll.

The survey in December of 586 Black female registered voters in New Jersey found they are “acutely aware of the hurdles (they) must overcome in order to achieve success,” according to a synopsis of the poll sponsored by the social justice nonprofit, Project Ready New Jersey.

Nearly 40% said racial discrimination was the most significant obstacle they faced, while one-third cited the lack of educational opportunities as a barrier, the poll found.

Control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate is up for grabs this November and political prognosticators anticipate Democrats will likely lose control of at least one house or both.

Voter enthusiasm and participation traditionally decline in midterm-election years across all demographics, said Cornell Belcher, President Obama’s campaign pollster and president of brilliant corners Research & Strategies who conducted this survey.

But Black women are additionally frustrated by the lack of progress made on the issues that energized them in the 2020 presidential election: protecting voting rights, reducing student loan debt and improving public schools, said Gabrielle Wyatt, founder and CEO of The Highland Project, a national organization dedicated to developing Black women leaders in business and politics.

“We have not moved the needle on student loans forgiveness. We have not moved the needle around the economy,” Hyatt said.

In mid 2021, Belcher’s firm released a national version of the groundbreaking poll of Black women — the first of its kind — on the Highland Project’s behalf, Hyatt said. The “enthusiasm gap” is universal, she said. But armed with the information from the poll, the next steps are clearer, she said.

The solution, is to “invest in Black women,” Hyatt said. “We are no longer waiting for the rhetoric to catch up to action.”

The poll margin of error overall is plus or minus 4 percentage points. Among the women polled, 37% held college degrees; 34% were parents; 36% were under 40 years old; 15% lived in Newark.

On political engagement, the poll found:

  • 68% percent of Black women under 40 said they would definitely vote in 2022, compared to 81% of women 40 and older.
  • 26% of women from Newark said they were “not very motivated” or “not at all motivated” to vote in the midterm elections, compared to 73% of Newark females who reported feeling “extremely motivated” or “somewhat motivated” to vote.
  • Seven in 10 Black women are very satisfied or satisfied with the direction of the state, but the “intensity” of the satisfaction is lacking, Belcher said;

On economic stability:

  • Overall, Black women believe the economy is likely to stay the same (39%) or worsen (35%). Women who reside in Newark and single moms were the least optimistic, with 47% saying they expected the economy to get worse.
  • More women reported they and their family are “falling behind” financially than those who said they were “keeping up,” especially mothers (54%) and Newark residents (49%).
  • When asked, “which generally has to do more with why a person is poor?” 64% of respondents attributed poverty to “obstacles in life” compared to 21% who said it was based on a person’s work ethic and 15% who said they did not know or declined to answer.
  • Asked how much money they would need to earn in order to feel successful, one-third said $100,000 to $199,000 and 29% said from $60,000 to 99,000.

On education:

  • 40% of moms think schools in the state are doing a fair job, while 19% feel these schools are doing a poor one.
  • 77% of moms do not think enough money is spent on public education.
  • When asked how schools should improve, 91% said “increasing parental involvement” and “quality of education not based on community wealth.” Among mothers in Newark, the most popular answers were “up-to-date books, computers resources” (92%) and “improving technology and the internet” (85%).
  • The goal of “fighting racism in schools” received support from 78% of all mothers and 83% from Newark moms.
  • Teachers (70%) and parents (66%) should have the most say in what their children are taught. State government and federal government leaders should have the least amount of say by a vote of 32% and 34%, respectively. School board members fell in the middle, with 49% of women saying they should have the most say.

On racism:

  • When asked if racism or discrimination is something they encounter every day, 42% replied “not often” 26% said “often,” 16% said “not at all” and 15% said “very often.” These responses mirrored the replies from Newark residents.
  • 39% of women feel racism and 33% say a lack of educational opportunities are the key hurdles to achieving economic success.

Black women are a proven political force, with 91% voting for Joe Biden in 2020. Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, D-Hudson, said the solution to engaging more Black women is “investing in Black women” and taking on the issues that matter to them.

“The younger crowd wants us to create and be more proactive, versus the older crowd who understand things take time. We help people win and we are not getting a lot in return,” McKnight said.

“We as Black women need to invest in other Black women…so we can more butts in the seat at the table. We have to do it ourselves. We need to out our black dollars behind our women,” McKnight added.

Asia Norton, a member of the Newark Board of Education, said Black women shouldn’t have to expand their political power on their own.

“We need our white men and white women to be partners. They hold the wealth and they hold plenty of power,” Norton said. We need those from other communities to pour in. They need to say, what do you need?”

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Susan K. Livio may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio.

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