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Between Anger and Engagement: Donald Trump and Black America

Christopher C. Towler and Christopher S. Parker. "Between Anger and Engagement: Donald Trump and Black America." The Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, vol. 3, Special Issue 1 (Race, Religion, Gender and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election), March 2018, pp. 219-253.

History suggests that social movements for change are often met with powerful counter-movements. Relying upon movement counter-movement dynamics, this paper examines whether or not contemporary reactionary conservatism—in this case Donald Trump's candidacy in 2016, offers an opportunity for African-American mobilization. Today, the reactionary right presents a threat to racial progress and the black community as it has grown from direct opposition to the election of President Obama, immigration reform, and gay and lesbian rights. With conditions ripe for a movement in response to the right, we examine the mobilizing effect on African-Americans of the threatening political context symbolized by Donald Trump. If African-Americans are to retain political relevance beyond the Obama era, then black turnout will need to reach rates similar to the historic 2008 election. Using the 2016 Black Voter Project (BVP) Pilot Study, we explore African-American political engagement in the 2016 election, a time void of President Obama as a mobilizing figure. We find that African-Americans who hold strong negative opinions of Trump in 2016 voted at rates similar to the historical turnout of 2008, offering a possible strategy to mobilize blacks beyond Obama's presidency. Moreover, the threat that Trump represents significantly drives blacks to engage in politics beyond voting even after accounting for alternative explanations. In the end, Trump and the reactionary movement behind him offers a powerful mobilizing force for an African-American population that can no longer look toward the top of the Presidential ticket for inspiration.

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