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#BlackLivesMatter activists played key role in pushing Georgia Democrats across finish line

Polling data shows support of #BLM among white respondents boosted Jon Ossoff in runoff elections

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A survey by Northwestern researchers shows #BlackLIvesMatter activism played a decisive role in Georgia runoff election wins

The Democratic victory in the two Senate runoff elections in Georgia was a watershed moment because of the decisive role that #BlackLivesMatter activists played in pushing the Democrats across the finish line.

Northwestern University researchers conducted a survey experiment focused on how #BlackLivesMatter messages about police reform were landing on Democratic-leaning voters in Georgia during the peak of the runoff election cycle.

They found through analyses of the attitudes and behaviors of 1,072 Black and 1,063 white Georgians that willingness to vote for and donate money to now Sen. Jon Ossoff’s campaign spiked among both populations when the experimental frames in the study described him as a proponent of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. 

They also found that most of the respondents were supportive of policies that would reduce police budgets and make police more accountable for misconduct against minorities. 

“One of the main narratives to emerge out of the 2020 election cycle was how the progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives cost the party seats on Nov. 3 by embracing the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s ‘defund the police’ slogan and policy agenda,” said Alvin Tillery, director of Northwestern’s Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy, which conducted the survey. 

This narrative was based largely on polling data, which showed that among voters that listed the 2020 #BlackLivesMatter protests as a prime motivation for their vote, 46 percent voted for Donald Trump. The concern led party elites like former President Barack Obama to urge progressives to shift their messaging around police reform issues.

“Fortunately for the Democrats, #BlackLivesMatter activists and their affiliated groups in Georgia ignored these specious arguments about the impact of their messaging on the party’s electoral fortunes,” said Tillery, an associate professor of political science. “Instead, activists leaned into their messaging around police reform and other racial justice issues during the Georgia runoffs by sponsoring advertisements for the Democratic candidates through the Black Lives Matter PAC.”

Tabitha Bonilla, assistant professor of human development and social policy, said their results about Black voters should come as no surprise to anyone who had been watching the political dynamics in Georgia during the election cycle.

“Grassroots organizing, led by Stacey Abrams, Nikema Williams and scores of other Black women in the state, leaned heavily on the same core messaging about social justice that drives the #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName movements,” said Bonilla, also a faculty fellow with Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. “Moreover, countless polls have demonstrated the enormous popularity of these movements within Black communities. It is likely because Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock embraced this energy and signal to the activists that they would support ‘social justice issues’ that they are serving in the United States Senate today.”

The researchers said the fact that rhetoric in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement also boosted the support for Ossoff among white respondents is a novel finding that confirms what was revealed over America’s summer of racial reckoning after the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor killings: There is now a multiracial coalition for these powerful movements within the Democratic Party.

“Our findings should help the Democrats chart a new relationship with Black-led movements for social justice,” Tillery said. “In short, our findings show that there should be no more derisive talk about the #BlackLivesMatter movement in Democratic Party circles. Instead, the Democrats should focus on what lessons of Mr. Ossoff’s and Rev. Warnock’s victories hold for building a new multiracial coalition for social justice. 

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