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Black Census Project Shows Black Voters Are Not of One Voice

One of the nation’s most prominent social movement leaders is the engine behind a far-reaching new poll that finds black Americans are diverse politically and care about earning enough, finding housing they can afford, and being able to pay for higher education.

Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza is head of an organization that has just released the Black Census Project, the largest survey of black Americans since Reconstruction.

The project, involving more than 30,000 respondents, was organized by Black Future Labs, a group founded by Garza and other human rights leaders that seek to build black political power. Among the project’s findings is that black Americans are deeply engaged with elections and politics, but by and large don’t feel that elected officials care about them.

The goal of the project launched last year is to make sure that black Americans play a more accurate and complete role in the 2020 White House race and in other elections, Garza told Fortune on Thursday. Color Of Change, the online racial justice group, Demos and SocioAnalitica Research are partners in the study, titled “More Black than Blue: Politics and Power in the 2019 Black Census.”

“First, we want to make sure that more resources are being directed toward engaging and motivating black voters,” Garza, Black Futures Lab principal, said in an email. “Black voters are the most consistent base of the Democratic Party, and in order to impact the elections coming up in 2020, we need to make sure that black communities show up and show up strong.”

She added, “Next, we want to make sure that the concerns of black voters specifically and black communities more generally become an important component of every candidate’s campaign. Finally, we hope to make sure (we) continue to engage black voters and black communities even after the elections are complete.”

Garza is the Oakland-based organizer and editorial writer who surged to prominence after self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen, in Sanford, Fla., in 2012, in an incident that set off protests nationwide. The following year, Garza founded the racial justice organization Black Lives Matter with fellow organizers Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. Last year, she created Black Future Labs, a group aimed at changing the way black Americans interact with society.

“We want to make sure that campaigns, candidates and elected officials don’t see black communities as monolithic,” Garza told Fortune regarding the project. “Black communities are rural and urban, LGBT and heterosexual, immigrant and U.S.-born and more,” Garza said. “Polls and surveys attempting to designate what is important to black communities need to capture the complexity of our communities in order to have a more complete picture of what is important to us.”

“Far too often, candidates come to our communities focused on the promises they will make without the steps to back them up,” Rashad Robinson, president of Color Of Change, said in a statement emailed to Fortune.

The poll was set up to correct for existing methods that might bypass underrepresented groups, such as the homeless, the LGBTQ community, people behind bars, and black conservatives. Black Futures Lab worked with 30 grassroots groups across the country, from Friends and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children to the Miami Workers Center. Organizations developed their own field plans to go out in to communities and talk to people. They equipped volunteers with iPads using an app that allowed them to interact with people with or without Internet access.

The biggest problems respondents cited in the survey are rising college costs, lack of affordable health care, and lack of affordable housing. More than 75% are in favor of raising taxes for people who earn $250,000 and more. About 97% of respondents who are engaged in politics see low wages as a problem, as do 92% of those who are not electorally engaged.

While the public’s assumption tends to be that all black voters are Democrats, the survey showed 2% are Republican, a quarter identify as Independent, and 6% are connected with some other political party.

Involvement in politics showed differences when it comes to age. Nearly half of those ages 18 to 29 are not electorally engaged while 52% of those over 45 are engaged in politics, according to the study. Overall, nearly 40% of the respondents voted and a little more than a third more not only voted, but also took part in election-related activities like canvassing and volunteering.

About 85% have a favorable view of former President Obama, while only 11% have a favorable view of the National Rifle Association, an organization typically associated with conservatives.

When it comes to the issue of black Americans’ troubled relationship with law enforcement, a majority, 83%, see use of excessive force by police as a problem and even more, 87%, say police officers killing black people is a problem, according to the census.

The survey also showed that black Americans feel politicians care very little about black people, immigrants, and the poor. They feel at a loss as to how to fix the problems affecting black Americans and want more support from their elected officials, the study showed.

The biggest lesson Black Futures Lab learned from the census is that black Americans are eager to be engaged, Garza said.

“What we heard most often from the communities we surveyed was that no one had asked them what they think, feel or experience,” she told Fortune. “Many wanted to know how they could get involved. We learned that black people want to be powerful in their lives, have power over their lives, and that there’s a lot of work left to do to ensure that black communities can be powerful in politics.”

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