Last week, Kamala Harris made history as the United States’ first Black woman candidate for Vice President. Some expect that her presence on the ballot will increase Black voter turnout, which according to Pew Research fell from 67% in 2012 to 60% in 2016 – the largest decline from the previous presidential election on record for Black Americans.

A poll conducted by BET in February revealed that just 55% of Black men said they definitely planned to vote in the November 2020 presidential election, compared with 64% of Black women. With the aim of improving Black male voter turnout, BET conducted additional qualitative and quantitative research to examine their needs and identify ways to increase their participation. This study focused on Black men in four “swing states” that were pivotal to the 2016 presidential election – North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. It was fielded prior to the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, which led to nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that intensified American sentiments around politics and civil rights.

So, what did we learn from this research?

Police brutality, healthcare, affordability, and education are the top issues for Black men in the US. Police brutality is the foremost concern among Black men. Next in importance are medical care, including for mental health, and the high mortality rates of Black women in childbirth. Affordability also is of prime importance, specifically pay discrimination, wealth inequality, increasing the minimum wage, advocating for entrepreneurship, and expanding the pool of available jobs. Education is also crucial – funding schools adequately and improving Black representation in school administrations, classrooms, and curriculums.

For Black men to feel their political power and be motivated to action, there are five things that need to happen:

  • Understand their current and historical place in politics. Historically, the government has excluded Black men from politics. Many political leaders have given the impression of working with the Black agenda, even though their past contradicts that. The result has been a decline in voter participation. To get Black men to return to the voting booth, they need to see messaging that acknowledges the historical context of their role in politics and encourages them to move forward.
  • Lay out politics and public policy in an engaging way. Some Black men do not have a deep understanding of the political system and find it challenging to articulate their political views clearly. To turn this around, there needs to be more education on public policy issues, candidates, and the parties that run them.
  • Partner with individuals they can relate to instantly. Many Black men who are familiar with politics gained their knowledge via family and friends, whether at the checkers table with their uncles or through a neighbor running for office. When politics feels closer to home, it breeds trust and promotes action. It took the 2008 election of Barack Obama for politics to really resonate. In their personal lives and in the public sphere, there is a need for partners or ambassadors who can engage the entire spectrum of Black men.
  • Provide a safe space for them to participate while learning. When Black men can consume politics in a conversational and judgment-free space, they become more comfortable with the subject matter. There is a need for culturally accessible resources that clearly translate the historic context of black men in politics, the political process, candidate positions, and issues on the ballot. When made aware of the efforts of past generations, Black men feel more motivated to participate.
  • Illustrate change in their day-to-day lives to build voting confidence. Black men are suffering from voting exhaustion. They are constantly asked to participate in the voting process but fail to see change in their communities. Even those who are not fully exhausted grow weary when considering the electoral vote’s effect on presidential elections. For Black men to feel the power of their vote, they need to see how it affects their daily lives.

So, will Black men be more likely to turn out at the polls this November now that Kamala Harris is on the presidential ticket? Maybe, but not necessarily. To ensure their vote, the five points above are critical.