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Black media figures may be pushing Black men from the Democratic Party

Charlamagne Tha God and others are sending messages that could upend traditional party loyalties.

- June 18, 2024

The idea of a “racial realignment“ has gained traction in commentary about the upcoming U.S. presidential election. The term refers to a weakening of support for Joe Biden or the Democratic Party among voters of color. In particular, some of the commentary has centered on the apparent defection of Black men from the Democratic party.

But we know far less about why exactly this might be happening – and especially why this may be a trend relating more to Black men than to Black women. An under-appreciated factor are the ideas and messages promulgated by high-profile personalities with large Black male audiences, like Charlamagne tha God, Stephen A. Smith, Killer Mike, Ice Cube, 50 Cent and, most infamously, Kanye West.

Right-leaning politicians have courted and entertained all of these personalities in recent months. And these high-profile Black men have also sought audiences with Republican politicians and candidates, including Donald Trump

Their stock-in-trade – political contrarianism mixed with Black nationalism – seems to resonate with young Black men. The big question in 2024 is whether this messaging is now making young Black men as comfortable bucking Black political heterodoxy at the ballot box as these personalities have been in their public utterances. If it is the case that young Black men are leaving the Democratic Party, this could be a more difficult election cycle for Democrats.

How Black political attitudes are formed

Scholars have shown that sociopolitical values shared among Black Americans are transmitted across generations through families, Black churches, social spaces, news and media outlets, as well as fraternal organizations. These parts of the Black community help promote a sense of communal well-being researchers call “linked fate.” The research suggests the political preferences of Black voters tend to reflect what they see as good for other Black people, and Black communities in general. 

This combination of linked fate and social pressure has helped Black people vote overwhelmingly Democratic, even though many are not orthodox liberals. Black reluctance to join the Republican party has far more to do with the GOP choice to walk away from civil rights 50 years ago and pursue a political program that appealed to anti-Black sentiment, versus Democratic liberalism. Consequently, Blacks engage in the politics of pragmatism because they are constrained by group needs as well as the two-party system

Thus, most Black Americans, including Black men, still vote for Democratic candidates. The modest shift in partisan identification we are seeing among young Black men does not a political realignment make, but it is worth exploring why this is happening, and why now.

Conservatism in Black media

What we are witnessing, at least among Black men, seems to be more of a demobilization. Rather than vote for either dominant party, individuals choose to stay home. And these Black media personalities may be a factor influencing this trend.

For one, these personalities now command a substantial audience. Charlamagne tha God, for example, is one of the hosts of the popular The Breakfast Club Radio program. This program reaches millions of listeners per month; half of these listeners are Black, and the majority are 18 to 34 years old. His radio show has become an important stop for politicians and pundits of all stripes. 

Charlamagne, the most prominent of the Breakfast Club hosts, has parlayed his time on the radio to become a political power broker who engages in a type of politics that is unapologetic about entertaining conservatives, even though he eschews voting for them. Here are some examples. In 2016 Charlamagne was taken to task for being chummy with conservative media personality Tomi Lahren and using his platform to elevate her brand. The Breakfast Club hosted Candace Owens earlier this year, a show that prompted similar criticisms. These incidents, coupled with Charlamagne’s refusal to endorse Joe Biden despite saying he will vote for him, leaves many concerned about how he uses his large and influential media platform.

This type of discord is not unique to Charlamagne. Atlanta rapper Killer Mike has encouraged Black gun ownership, even as the Democratic Party has leaned into anti-gun provisions. He has also pushed for skilled trades as a way to strengthen Black families. He was a surrogate for progressive Bernie Sanders during his presidential run – and Sanders is a long-time critic of the Democratic Party, albeit from the left. During this election cycle, Killer Mike hosted controversial candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Killer Mike also met with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who many blame for undercutting Black voting rights in the state. This meeting prompted a public rebuke among those who perceived the meeting as a tacit endorsement of Kemp. Killer Mike rejected this characterization and justified this meeting as an attempt to work with whomever is in the “king’s seat,” on behalf of Black people – even if that person is a Republican. 

This was the same defense Ice Cube employed when he decided to collaborate with Donald Trump on Trump’s “Platinum Plan” for racial equality, which was modeled on Cube’s Contract with Black America. At the same time, Ice Cube declined a Zoom meeting with Kamala Harris – who was running for vice president at the time – because it was not a one-on-one meeting. 

What’s new here?

Of course, there has always been a strain of conservatism running through Black communities, particularly among Black men. Themes of self-help, disinterest in government interventions in Black life, opposition to abortion, armed self-defense are as much calling cards of modern conservatism as they are of Black nationalism. And, while these ideas have support among Black women, they are largely male-centered, placing Black men as literal and fictive heads of Black families.

What is new, however, is that these Black media personalities want to be in politics but not of politics. With the exception of Killer Mike and his support for Bernie Sanders, they don’t endorse candidates, yet regularly interface with politicians. In fact, this brand of political both-sides-ism seems to be part of their appeal.

Political pragmatism also has a long tradition in Black politics. Black Americans, like all Americans, face the constraints of the imaginations, candidates, and agendas of America’s party system. They must make strategic choices. For these Black media personalities, their choices appear to reflect their own self-interest rather than the traditional party loyalties of Black Americans.

What this means for November

We cannot draw a causal link between what figures like Charlamagne tha God say and the political behavior of Black men. But we do know that Black media outlets, and now social media, traditionally have been central to maintaining Black community norms – including political norms that have resulted in longstanding support for the Democratic Party. 

We don’t yet know how Black Americans will vote this November or whether there will be any “racial realignment.” Biden’s poll numbers among Black Americans do appear to be improving. But if Black voters, especially Black men, support him less or simply choose to stay home on Nov. 5, one factor may be the contrarian voices in Black media.

Niambi M. Carter is a 2024-2025 Good Authority fellow.