Biden Underestimates How Much Black Americans Care About This Issue

Black voters will not only be a driving force in the 2024 elections; they will most likely be the driving force. Recent polls showed that roughly 20 percent of Black voters said they would probably vote for Donald Trump if the election were held today — the highest level of Black support for any Republican presidential candidate since the civil rights era. An additional 8 percent said they wouldn’t vote at all.

Democratic campaign officials are rightly worried, but there’s still time for President Biden to make up the ground he has lost. One way he could do it is by talking to Black America, especially young Black voters, about a sleeper issue: the climate crisis.

As an environment and climate researcher, I have found that despite the growing threat posed by climate change, politicians often seem to downplay the crisis when courting Black communities. Democratic strategists seem to see climate change as a key political issue only for white liberal elites and assume that other groups, like Black voters, are either unaware of or apathetic about it.

In reality, Black Americans are growing increasingly concerned about climate change.

An April poll from CBS News showed that 88 percent of Black adults said it was “somewhat” or “very important.” That makes sense: The most severe harms from climate change, from heat waves to extreme flooding, are already falling disproportionately on their communities. And it’s starting to be reflected in their political priorities. A poll conducted by the Brookings Institution last September showed that climate change is now a greater political concern for Black Americans than abortion or the state of democracy.

If Democrats are serious about making inroads with some of the people they have lost in these communities, they should begin by talking to voters about what the climate crisis looks like for them. In major Democratic strongholds such as Cleveland, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, heat waves and flooding are driving up electricity bills and destroying homes. If Mr. Biden were to routinely speak about these challenges and commit to creating forums for Black Americans to discuss climate concerns with government officials, his administration could earn back some of the faith it has squandered.

As a start, Mr. Biden could focus more intently on young Black people, a group passionate about climate change. Until May 19, when he gave the commencement address at Morehouse College, the president had largely refrained from direct engagement with young Black audiences on the campaign trail. When he speaks to Black voters, climate often is a footnote, or it’s mentioned in a policy buffet along with the economy, abortion and voting rights. During his speech at Morehouse, he mentioned the climate crisis explicitly only in a stray line about “heeding your generation’s call to a community free of gun violence and a planet free of climate crisis and showing your power to change the world.”

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