Pete Buttigieg Is Struggling With Black Voters — and Not Just Because He’s Gay

There are weaknesses in Buttigieg's candidacy "that black voters may see particularly well," a political scientist said

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Pete Buttigieg, 37, may have won over many members of the mostly white political commentariat in New York and Washington, and recent polls of Iowa’s overwhelmingly white electorate put him at or near the front of the crowded Democratic field there, NBC News reports. But, at the start of October, a poll in The Charleston Post and Courier found Buttigieg had no black voter support in the state and just 4 percent support overall.

That has left two questions generating a stream of television commentary, social media memes and heated disputes. How much of Buttigieg’s difficulty with black voters, and in many cases religious voters, is because of his sexuality? And, given that black voters make up about 20 percent of the Democratic Party’s base nationwide, why is he still considered a serious contender for the nomination when he doesn’t have black voters’ support?

Rep. Jim Clyburn, the veteran African American congressman from South Carolina who serves as House majority whip, told CNN recently that there was no question that support for an openly gay candidate was a “generational” issue for older African American voters and would affect Buttigieg’s popularity in the state. But others say that it is more complicated, and that there are other factors dampening Buttigieg’s support in the South.

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“I am sure some latent homophobia is influencing some people’s coolness toward Mayor Pete Buttigieg,” said Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University who studies black political behavior. “But it’s more complex than ‘They are religious and he’s gay.’” 

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