Those results appear to stem from generational differences, as well. Sixteen percent of black respondents indicated that they’d been brought to rallies or demonstrations by their parents as children, a significantly higher number than for white or Hispanic respondents. Sixty percent of black respondents talked about political or social issues at home growing up, compared with 52 percent of white respondents and 40 percent of Hispanic respondents.
The results highlight a number of dynamics between black social and political organizations. First, black people at baseline do appear to me more plugged-in to activist networks than respondents of other races. They are more likely to encounter appeals from local leaders—such as teachers or preachers—and national celebrities to get involved and vote than white respondents, and they are more likely to be involved in religious organizing groups and believe that religious organizing is an effective problem-solving device. Much of this deep connection with local civic institutions and activism among black communities seems related to the civil-rights movement and the necessity of movements throughout history in black politics, as well as to the transformational moment of activism that came about with Obama’s candidacy.
Overall, as the poll suggests, those historical, necessity-driven levels of activism and engagement are in some amount of danger in the Trump era. But that danger comes at a time when black people are perhaps more politically unified and motivated than they have been in years. In this poll, black respondents favored Democratic candidates at 83 percent, versus 7 percent for Republicans. Among all the racial groups surveyed, black respondents were the only group where three different issues—gun policy, racial inequality, and health care—reached a more than 60 percent consensus. While voters of all races were about equally likely to report that they would vote in the 2018 election, black voters were significantly more likely than others to report that their friends intended to vote, indicating a greater community interest in the midterm elections.
“I think that’s a good measure of energy, and an indication that people are actually talking about the midterm elections,” Jones said.
What to make of the fact that black voters are seeing high rates of civic disengagement, diminishing levels of office seeking, and increased barriers to voting, but are also reporting more robust community interest in the election? According to Jessica Byrd, the founder of Three Point Strategies, an organization that specializes in developing and supporting black women political candidates, those facts might not be in conflict. “Multiple things can be true at the same time, which is really how I engage with electoral politics,” Byrd told me by phone. “I believe that we are in the heart of a black political renaissance. I don’t say that to be cute or kitschy. I really think that—in great part, by young, black activists over the last five or six years—we are in the place of this incredible emergence.”