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These Polls Ain't Loyal: What the 2022 Midterms Mean for Black America 

The full episode transcript for These Polls Ain't Loyal


Into America

These Polls Ain't Loyal

Trymaine Lee: So you just finished voting and I wonder who and what you were thinking about when you made your decision.

Santreesia Rivers: Thinking about multiple people, my big momma, who raised her entire family here and historic Summerhill Community --

Lee: On the morning of November 8, Election Day, Santreesia Rivers came to the Liberty Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia to cast her ballot.

Rivers: And my sister, Valencia, we to her, represented her today, she died last year, July, of COVID at Grady Memorial Hospital, I'm sorry.

Lee: Santreesia stood tall in the quiet parking lot as she spoke to me, and on her T-shirt was a picture of her sister.

Rivers: We were together voted for Raphael Warnock before, and I just wanted to bring her with me today to make sure our voices are heard.

Lee: And like Santreesia, when Black folks vote, they're often carrying more than just themselves into the ballot booth. Take Eleanor Day, a 34-year-old Georgia resident who cast a ballot for the very first time this year.

Eleanor Day: You know, I never voted because of my religious belief, growing up as a Jehovah's Witness. But, you know, changing again, more information and background information, it led me up to vote because I have young girls coming up. So that will lead me to come out and vote to, you know, to take a stand for -- if -- I'm not going to take a stand for myself, I'll take a stand for my kids and other women, other young kids that's coming up that do not have a voice. My 13-year-old daughter, she cannot vote, my 7-year-old daughter cannot vote, my 12-year-old daughter cannot vote but I can.

Lee: The Senate race in Georgia between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker is still undecided and headed to a runoff next month. Reverend Darrell Johnson of Atlanta said on Election Day that if Warnock it's thanks to Black voters.

Darrell Johnson: I think Black folks realize that the last presidential election, the strength and the value of our votes turned out in overwhelming numbers. And that reversed a lot of things around here, and that's what has the Republicans running so scared now.

Lee: At the time we're recording this, Republicans look likely to seize control of the House. Democrats also had some tough losses in the Senate, like in North Carolina where Cheri Beasley was defeated by three term Republican Congressman Ted Budd.

Cheri Beasley: A few minutes ago, I called Senator-elect Budd to congratulate him. This isn't the outcome that we wanted, but we have made history in North Carolina.

Lee: If she had won, Beasley would have been the first Black women senator from North Carolina. But despite that loss, Democrats are likely to keep control of the Senate. And the red wave predicted by Republicans and many analysts didn't materialize.

Archival Recording: This is pretty clearly not the party that Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans thought they would be having tonight.

Archival Recording: It's tough to find many when you look at it right now, and you say that Democrat is going down, that Democrat is going to -- they seem to be in the game in these vulnerable seats where we're getting vote right now.

Archival Recording: Joe Biden is on the verge of being the most successful Democratic president in a midterm election that we have seen in quite some time.

Archival Recording: So if you're Democrat, I think you're very excited by what you're seeing in that race right there.

Lee: Democrats won key Senate House and Governor races all across the country.

Archival Recording: We have an important call and a very closely watched race. This is a Senate race projection in the great state of New Hampshire. Republicans really wanted to pick off incumbent Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan. They have failed in their efforts to do so.

Archival Recording: We've got a Maryland Senate race to call and NBC News projects that the winner in the Maryland Senate race is incumbent Democrat Chris Van Hollen.

Archival Recording: NBC News Now projects that in the Senate race in the great state of Pennsylvania, Democrat John Fetterman has won. This is a Democratic state --

Lee: There were even some historic victories. Afro-Latino candidate Maxwell frost, one of Florida House seat, he'll now become the first Gen Z member of Congress. And Democrat Wes Moore will become the first Black governor for the state of Maryland and just the third black Governor ever elected in the country.

Wes Moore: And it's because you believed that I stand here humbled and ready to become the 63rd governor of the state of Maryland.

Lee: Voters also made their voices known on a range of ballot initiatives on abortion, recreational marijuana, and slavery as punishment for crime. In Georgia, some analysts thought a combination of restrictive voting laws and lower enthusiasm would drive down turnout in these midterms. But initial data has disproved that theory. In the end, though, it wasn't enough to turn the Peach State's governorship blue.

Stacey Abrams: I got into this for a fight for what we know to be true deep down in our bones, that the state of Georgia, the people of Georgia, deserve more.

Lee: For the second time Stacey Abrams lost to Republican Brian Kemp, just like in 2018. But despite this loss, and the uncertainty in the Senate race, Black voters in Georgia, like Chris Ford, remain determined to hold on to their hard-won political power.

Stacey Abrams: I'm not worried about our legacy. I'm not worried about our participation in this country, especially as descendants of enslaved people. I'm not worried at all about how I'm going to show up in this historical record. I think that the Brian Kemps of the world, the Herschel Walkers of the world, they need to be worried about how they're going to show up.

Lee: I'm Trymaine Lee, and this is Into America.

The votes are in but across the country, they're still being counted. Today, two longtime political analysts help us break down the results so far, what they mean for Black Americans, and how what we know now confirms or disproves what we thought would happen.

The morning after Election Day, as midterm results were still rolling in, I was reporting from an election's processing center in Atlanta. To get out of the cold, I have in my rental car to catch up with Dr. Jason Johnson, an MSNBC political analyst and a professor at Morgan State University. He was also in Georgia keeping tabs on the midterms.

Jason Johnson, good brother. Thank you for joining us.

Jason Johnson: Happy to be here. Ridiculously exhausted, absolutely shocked, but happy to be here. Trymaine.

Lee: That's a running theme for political reporters on Election Night. It's like a bunch of running around, dehydrated, hungry, and just spent. And sounds like that's what you are, good brother.

Johnson: I am, you know. But it's funny, man, there was a time in history where this was fun.

Lee: A time in history.

Johnson: It's live on now. You're looking at the results, you know, at one point in my life and career, I was looking at results like this thinking about, OK, do I do I still have a job tomorrow? There's another point in my career that I looked at these sorts of events and said, OK, you know, how's this align with the theory of working on my doctorate. Now you look at these results, it's like are we going to have the same rights tomorrow, like the level of anxiety with this midterm made it very different than any other that I've experienced in my life.

Lee: So here we are, it's Wednesday morning, right around 8:22 Atlanta Time, the day after the election, how have things shaken out?

Johnson: We stand on like an old school teeter-totter that like you would have when you were a kid, where you can sort of stand until to one side, depending on where you stood with your feet. And this is the first midterm election, I've gone to, from probably three cycles, where I really didn't know there was so much polling all over the place. And there are historical factors. I mean, you're sitting president is under 50 percent in approval rating. You would assume between that and the usual losses at the midterms, that this would have been a wipeout night for Democrats.

But it wasn't, it seems highly likely that Democrats will retain the Senate at least at 50-50, if not 51-49. A lot of governor's races went in the Democrats favor. So there's a lot of different things that are still going on now votes are still being counted that shocked me. Even Karen Bass and Rick Caruso in Los Angeles, and I don't expect Rick to win. He should have learned to stop gambling earlier this year when he spent $40 million to only get 39 percent of the vote in a primary. But even that race looks like it'll probably be stronger in Karen Bass' favor than anybody could have predicted.

Lee: You know, the polling was all over the place. What do we know about that? Like, should we have less trust in polls? And why are we still relying on polling when it's so wildly all over the place?

Johnson: I have been saying for years now, Trymaine, these polls ain't loyal. They ain't, OK. And I don't think people understand that. I mean, this both as a political scientist and a play on words. Polling is not broken. I think that's an overall, you know, that's -- I think that's a bit of a hot take, but the number of bad polls that started to come out that suggested Republicans that success when no real dynamics on the ground had changed, that part was odd. And I think we'll probably, frankly, need to be more responsible as journalists, about how we look at different kinds of polling.

And then you know this, I know this. At the end of the day, your average man or woman in the street ain't really looking at the polls. Not that much. They're making a decision about how they're going to vote one way or another. I don't think there was anybody out there who said, hey, look, the polling looks bad for Stacey Abrams, so I'm not going to vote for her. But I do think that if you show, you know, constant polling that says, oh, my gosh, there's no chance that Cheri Beasley can make this competitive. And then we see the results last night which were much closer. You do have to start questioning, OK, then why did we pay attention to all these polls? It clearly underestimated how good her turnout game was.

Lee: Let's talk about Georgia. We're both here in Georgia. Obviously, there are two big, big, big races between Stacey Abrams and Kemp for governor and in this Senate race between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker, which is still razor thin, right? What do we face in there?

Johnson: So none of these things are disconnected. You know, we're all in sort of a larger political ecosystem. Raphael Warnock -- and again, there are criticisms of him too. I mean, goodness gracious, the things that you can hear sometimes behind the scenes, politically, there are people who really love him and support him. There are people who dislike him. And I'm saying this amongst Democrats, Black political elites within the city, within the organizing community.

That being said, Herschel Walker is a bizarrely unqualified human being he is a caricature. If we were watching, you know, some black and white silent film from the early part of the 20th century, he would be the frightening Black man in blackface with chalk lips, chasing white women through the street. That is how distressing his behavior and how stereotypical his backstory seems to be. And his success so far in the campaign has not been because he presents some unique perspective on Georgia that people want to represent them. It's because you have a large number of Georgians who are generally racist, and they don't like Black people. And if they do vote for Black people, it's Black people who will operate in service to white supremacy, but also because they wanted to give another vote to Mitch McConnell. I know one person in particular who's like, look, I know that Herschel Walker is a bad guy. No, I wouldn't want him anywhere near my wife or my daughter, but I need somebody in the Senate to hold Joe Biden in check. So that's how you had a large number of white Georgians vote for him.

Do I think that Herschel Walker wins on a runoff? I don't. I think if Herschel Walker is not drafting behind Brian Kemp, I don't think he can bring enough enthusiasm on his own in order to win a runoff, and Raphael, Warnock can.

Lee: Slavery was actually on the ballot in a number of states. Three states, Tennessee, Alabama, Vermont passed ballot measures prohibiting slavery as punishment for crime, so everyone knows, but this was also on the ballot in Louisiana but was rejected. Talk to us about that. That still blows my mind every time the midterm in 2022 when slavery, slavery, and there were people who voted to keep slavery on the books.

Johnson: Yes.

Lee: Talk to me about that, man.

Johnson: Yes, yes. I think I call them NCAA football fans. Look, you know, I'm going to get trolled for that. Anyway, it doesn't shock me. Like, it doesn't shock me. And we have modern day slavery in America. It is mostly our criminal justice system where people are thrown in jail. And they're essentially put into slavery, where they're forced to work for little or no wages or way below any sort of living wage to produce products, everything from food resources to furniture, that is slavery. And so, whether or not it was a redefinition of the old version of slavery, or is an attempt to address modern day slavery, it is important to note that large numbers of people in America are OK with it.

And they probably wouldn't care about that distinction. They wouldn't care if it was like, no, no, no, really, this is a question as to whether or not it's OK to throw black people back and change it like you know, I'm good. I'm good, like, people are still people who are perfectly OK with that.

So I think it's important for us to remember that is the country we're in. The desire to attack, oppress, control and manipulate the Black body does not end. And the need to constantly protect ourselves against a government that was constructed off our blood, off our free labor, and off our culture that nonetheless wants to deny us the opportunity to profit off of any of those things with consistency, that battling over.

Lee: Some people were predicting a red wave. We didn't see that last night. But pound for pound, were the midterms of 2022 a win for Black people? Did the Black people or Black voter in a better position politically or in this country today than they were on Monday?

Johnson: Oh, hell no.

Lee: Not just no. Hell no.

Johnson: Hell no. I've been doing this Black in America thing for just close to four decades now, right? And no, no. What we're doing in this particular midterm election is staving off an absolute coup, a white nationalist Christian fundamentalist who want to take over this country, control our bodies, and keep all of us in a subservient position politically, culturally and economically, let alone educationally.

That was not stopped by yesterday's voting. That won't be stopped by anybody's recount. I don't care if Mandela Barnes somehow beat Ron Johnson and Karen Bass, you know, banish Rick Caruso to the islands of Nevermore, it wouldn't matter. It doesn't magically make this country safe or better for Black people. We are in a constant never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way. And no matter what kind of league of superheroes we put together, there's always a horde of villains who are out to stop us.

So no, I don't feel after yesterday's election that Black people were saved. I don't think Black man or Black women's saved America or any of that sort of ridiculous geography that is thrown upon us. But I do think we slowed a process towards fascism, an autocracy that was going to be worse for us than anybody else.

Lee: And so certainly writ large, Black people aren't in any better position. America is always going to America, right? It's not -- might slow that machine but that machine keeps cranking on. But there were some victories by Black candidates last night. Could you walk us through some of, you know, some of the Black candidates wins last night, anything surprising, anything that's a good sign?

Johnson: I mean, I wasn't surprised by Wes Moore, but it was great. I'm waiting for the hot takes where people are talking about the Wes Moore-Shapiro ticket in 2024. I, you know, Tish James was great. The state of Pennsylvania now has an African American lieutenant governor, so that's one, two, three, maybe four Black lieutenant governors right now, all Democrats which is pretty impressive.

So there are some good races. You have Summer Lee who was a Democratic seat, but you now have a Black woman who is representing sort of the Pittsburgh Area. And it's shocking that, you know, Pittsburgh, between Pittsburgh and Philly that Pittsburgh is a place since the first Black woman to Congress from the state of Pennsylvania, I wouldn't figure that one way or another.

So those things are good signs. But again, as we've seen, representation alone, there's symbolic representation and as functional representation, you know, it doesn't magically make this place better. And it's not because I'm a cynic. It's because I recognize that the amount of black power that you have to have, and the overwhelming consistency and uniformity of that power in order to initiate the change is more than our current system is allowed to create.

So these are some individual good cases, maybe some of these people become superstars, maybe they don't. But none of these battles are over. They're still fights for justice, because the backlash is ongoing, consistent, and I'll get more violent.

Lee: Stick with us. When we come back, I'll dig into the polling data with analyst Cornell Belcher.

Lee: After talking with Jason, I want to look more closely at the numbers in Georgia and Black male voters in particular. So I caught up with pollster Cornell Belcher, the president of the Brilliant Corners Research firm.

Cornell Belcher: What you have is a turnout. It is still early on the alternate numbers. But what you have is a turnout that, quite frankly does not look anything like what you typically see in a midterm. So what happened? It looks like young people in particular, young people who usually sit out midterms turned out and staved off a Republican way.

Lee: Let's get back to Georgia. You have this incumbent Republican whipping, you know, his opponent, right, really, you know, ahead far. And then you have this Black Senator Raphael Warnock, incumbent, ahead of his challenger, Walker, what do the numbers say about how it broke that way? What do we know from the numbers?

Belcher: Well, it's still early. But what you can see is that this is a big deal for midterm because understand you need it incredible mobilization of younger voters and African American voters in Georgia, in 2020 to do that. And you typically don't see that in a midterm. But again, it's still early. But if you look at it right now, strong performance among African Americans, but you also have he's him outperforming Stacey Abrams, among several segments of white voters. And the ticket splitting was going be fascinating, because there are certainly some Kemp voters who went down the ballot and did not vote for Herschel Walker.

You know, Trymaine, I would argue if Kemp wasn't at the top of the ticket, such a strong candidate, the top of the ticket. I think Herschel would have lost this thing outright and it wouldn't go to a runoff.

Lee: You know, speaking of narratives and contrived narratives, and orchestrated narratives, one narrative that popped up early with that Black men, you know, they don't like Stacey Abrams. Black men are disengaged in that, you know, enthusiastic about participating, which we know there are a lot of issues and barriers, and hurdles, and all kinds of forces that work here.

But I just saw something, I don't know if you could fact check this for me. I saw someone tweet that. Actually, Stacey Abrams performed better with Black men, the Democrats nationally, right? So debunking this narrative that was created that Black men weren't supporting her. What do we know at this point, in terms of like, for more recent numbers?

Belcher: I'm going to try not to get pissed but it's hard. Because -- let's unpack this. So if you look back over the last five decades going into the 60s, except for the outlier of 2008. African American men have consistently voted between 14 percent and 11 percent. Republican. It's fairly static. And so, the difference between African American men voting behavior and African American women voting behavior is actually very small when compared to the voting behavior of white men and white women, and Hispanic men and Hispanic women.

So the question to me, Trymaine, is why, given the differences between how men and women vote overall, and certainly some wider differences between other demographic groups around gender, why the hell is it a front page story, that African American men behave politically, about five points different than African American women. To what purpose is that? Who is that narrative serving?

And when you get up to 80 percent of African American men vote for the Democratic candidate, the criticism is that what, you're not getting 100 percent of them.

Lee: Right? That is the criticism, right?

Belcher: Right. It's an absurd criticism. And why are so many African Americans carrying that toxic water that pits Black men and Black women politically against each other in a way that it isn't actually reality. Who is that serve? Certainly, doesn't serve the African American community, doesn't serve Black power.

Lee: Are there any other surprises even with this preliminary kind of numbers? Are you seeing anything surprising to you?

Belcher: I am surprised at how the kids are all right, how the millennials and Gen Zs are coming of age, voting age, help stave off a red wave, which would have meant for them catastrophe when you look at their issues. A red wave that would meant going backwards on climate issues of climate, a red wave that meant going backwards on issues of racial equality, which are really key and central to young voters who reject this old cultural war, that the boomers keep wanting to fight.

That is surprising, right? But also -- and here is something that is a really big deal politically moving forward. Trymaine, we now have, looks like we're now going to have three consecutive elections, where Democrats are winning solidly, white college women. And this level set, majority of white voters voted for Donald Trump. The majority of white voters voted Republican, even with the craziest candidates, you know, candidates that we know. We're talking about overthrowing elections, and conspiracy theories. We're seeing a break and that tribalism, with better educated white women is a political shift that is potentially ground shattering.

Lee: What could that break signal for Black America?

Johnson: Well, look, for a progressive coalition that Black Americans are the pillar of. It means changes in politics and policies. Look, if we have a Senate that we can get in this was what Biden said, you know, two more seats, we can actually get pass criminal justice reform that Democrats in the House passed. Like criminal justice reform is still a top issue for Black people, right? It means a whole line of progressive policies aimed at both more economic equality and certainly sort of attacking racial disparities. At least we can address those. That's what this bigger coalition means for Black America. If it holds, and if we can grow it.

Lee: The end of the election is really just the beginning, right? We're just -- people are still counting ballots. This is -- we don't know. We don't know. We don't know. We don’t know that yet.

Johnson: Well, I just don't enter this country, brother.

Lee: Ever. Keep moving. Much to our goodbyes. But as a pollster who studies these numbers, and you've been around the block many times, you've seen these elections come and go, and you believe what you can from them? What will you be paying attention to next? Like, what are you going to be focusing on to see what emerges?

Belcher: Couple things. One is, look, if Republicans had a hard time struggle in this midterm election, which they were projected to just run away with, guess what they're going to do, Trymaine. They're going to make it even harder for people of color to vote, they're going to make it even harder for young people to participate. Republicans are no longer the majority party nationally, they're not. And the changes that are happening in our country, these changes with diversity, that changing, the browning of America. That is the central point of strife.

I don't care what they say. They want to say, oh, this is all about economics. And you remember, when the Tea Partiers came in and say, we want to take your country back. Some of our pundit friends say, oh, it's just economic angst. You know, they're worried about the deficit. Now, these (inaudible) say they want their country back. So you should believe them, when they say they want our country back. They think they're losing a country.

Fast forward. Replacement theory, once a French ideal is now mainstream by Republicans. This strife that is centered around the changes that are happening in this in this country is either going to make us or break us over the next decade.

Lee: Before we wrap, we checked in with Janiah Henry. She's the Clark Atlanta University student organizer we spoke with for our HBCU tour in Georgia last month. Janiah has been working on her campus to get out the Black youth vote.

Janiah Henry: The Black youth vote matters because we're the future and we're here now.

Lee: When we talked in October, Janiah felt the weight of this election.

Henry: At stake is a woman's autonomy. At stake is voting as we know it. At stake is honestly our democracy.

Lee: So our producers gave Janiah a ring to see how she's doing post midterms.

Archival Recording: Hi, good morning.

Henry: Good morning.

Archival Recording: How you doing?

Henry: I'm doing OK.

Lee: Janiah was still processing the results from Georgia's governor's race when we called her.

Henry: Because I was seriously rooting for what Georgia could look like, what I wanted it to look like. I can say that what happened with Stacey Abrams was very -- I really don't have the words. I'm still processing what's going on. But I don't want to say it takes away hope, but it just kind of -- I'm not sure how to put it into words, my apologies.

Lee: Janiah has spent months trying to get out the Black youth vote. And she said enthusiasm was there. But when Election Day came around, she found people were having issues voting.

Henry: They encountered things that discourage them from going to the polls. Some people did see on the voter registration, like their gender being wrong. And so they thought that if I drive 40 minutes now to my polling location, and I have class, you know, are they really going to let me vote if my gender doesn't match my ID, it's not going to happen. It's just things like that, because people know how technical it can be. They didn't go and vote.

Of course, I encourage them to go back. But, you know, and I can't fault people for, you know, not seeing things earlier. Something's just happened. I'm just proud of people for even trying to vote.

Lee: The last time we spoke to Janiah, she said a woman's autonomy, voting rights and democracy as we know it are at stake. She said that's even more true now.

Henry: We're really not in a good space.

Lee: Now Janiah is bracing for the runoff between Senate candidates, Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker to be held on December 6th, and she's ready.

Henry: Prepared to really turn out the folks, like without a doubt, come early, come ready for anything without being deterred, because this is our last chance.

Lee: Janiah still has hope for Georgia, and her plan is to keep that hope alive among other young people, because she knows their future depends on it.

Henry: This should definitely not have anyone dismayed. Of course, we can feel this -- we can feel what this feels like in this moment. But don't let this be a deterrent. Don't let this take away your enthusiasm or the fight because the fight has to happen regardless of what Georgia looks like. So continue to stay focused because we still have work to do.

Lee: To stay updated on the latest results in the 2022 midterms and to understand what it means for Black Americans, keep an eye on And you can follow our show on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook using the handle @IntoAmericanPod. If you love the show, and if we've helped you make sense of this election cycle, help us spread the word about into America. You can do that by rating and reviewing the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you're listening right now.

Into America is produced by Sojourner Ahebee, Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, and Max Jacobs. Original music is by Hannis Brown. Our Executive producer is Aisha Turner.

I'm Trymaine Lee see you next Thursday.